As we reach the middle of the school year we begin to approach standardized testing season. As an educator I understand the need for assessment, pero the standardized tests can be a real pain in the ass for teachers, parents and of course stressful for students. When we start talking assessments we automatically picture exams, but there are two main forms of assessments.
The most well known form of assessment, is Formal Assessment which is usually at the end of a teaching unit and is generally a paper and pencil exam. A teaching unit, is the goal a teacher plans for. The teacher plots for students to reach a learning goal, builds the lessons required for the students to reach that goal and finally, students are asked to demonstrate their newly learned knowledge. This demonstration is done through formal assessments which typically Spelling Tests, Math Facts Tests (YUCK!) or a test where you read a passage and answer questions. (Circle A, B, C, or D, all of the above.) These exams are at the end of teaching units.
Friday is testing day because teachers usually plan to teach lessons focused around the learning goal Monday through Thursday and test for understanding right before the weekend. Testing students at the end of a teaching unit can be misleading. Of course a student can ace a test when they have been learning the same thing Monday through Thursday and tested over the exact same thing on Friday. The test results we receive do not prove that students can APPLY the new knowledge. We only know that they can remember from Monday through Thursday.
The second kind of assessment is called Informal Assessment. The informal assessment is what a teacher does 24/7, sometimes without even thinking about it. These assessments are not your typical paper and pencil “tests”. We check for understanding of concepts we have taught by asking students questions, or having them explain what they are doing. During these times of monitoring and questioning the teacher is checking for understating of the new concepts to determine whether or not to re-teach a lesson.
An Informal Assessment is an ongoing tool that is used by teachers to determine what a student may be confused about. These assessments are low pressure, because they do not happen on a Friday, there is no timer, nor is there multiple-choice answers. During informal assessment the students explain what they know in their own words, and when they do that that they are exhibiting a higher level of understanding.
When a child fails a multiple-choice exam I do not know if they understand adding fractions. When I ask, “Why do we need a common denominator?” and a child can explain their reasoning I find out what they know and I can adjust my teaching accordingly.
I was part of the generation that took the last TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) in 3rd grade and began taking the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) from 4th grade through 12th grade. Now I teach and my students take the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) starting in 3rd grade. I took the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) after high school to get into college and after graduating from a university, I had to get my teaching certification. I took 4 more standardized tests (made by the state of Texas) to be a certified bilingual teacher for grades Kindergarten through 6th grade. I’ve been testing my whole life and have accepted it as a part of my life but, I do not think testing is effective nor does a test score tell me anything about a person. Trying to define our students with numbers, and define an educator's teaching abilities by student scores has become an ugly practice that reduces our students and teachers to figures and lines the pockets of the companies that “build” our tests.
With all the high stakes testing we have lost sight of teaching children to understand concepts on a deeper level. We are testing an answer sheet. We are not testing true knowledge. A bubble not colored in dark enough, skipping a line on the answer sheet or not matching up the right numbers on an answer document cannot tell me what a child understands. Standardized testing is creating zombie-like children and stressed out teachers who’s compassion fatigue grows worse very year.
We chose to become teachers to teach, not to read answer sheets. Standardized testing needs to be reevaluated and reconsidered using a type of assessment where all students can show what they know instead of students trying to guess what the test makers consider to be “the best answer”.
Why did I dedicate my studies to bilingual education? I was not a part of a bilingual program. I do not come from a long line of teachers. I honestly had never considered becoming an educator. Nor did I know what it would take to become one.
Upon entering a University straight out of high school, I believed I had to climb a social ladder to make money. I believed that business would be my way to that goal, which would lead to a good life. Once I was taking my economics classes I felt like I didn’t fit in. One professor would make jokes about the people who mowed his lawn which I found very offensive. At the time, my family was in the business of mowing lawns and I didn’t appreciate his racist jokes. One day I looked around my classroom and woke up. All I saw were white males. What was I doing in this horrible economics course?
At the time I was working at a tutoring center and I was a volunteer soccer coach at the local YMCA. I was the youngest coach, and yet parents would request my coaching season after season. My soccer teams did not win many games but they did learn to work together as a team. I was slowly developing a passion for teaching children. I spoke to a good friend who was studying education and she told me it would not be easy. I love a good challenge, Education sounded perfect. My friend also suggested that I enter Bilingual Education because it would increase my marketability. I myself was never in Bilingual Education but, I thought it would be worth a shot.
Coaching and volunteering helped me realize Economics was not making me happy. These experiences with children made me think about my own childhood. I began to remember that I was not supposed to be in college. I was the daughter of an immigrant, a single father, raised by abuela, on beans and rice and second hand clothing. How did I get so lucky to get into a University?
I was lucky to have a brave abuela, hard working abuelo and risk-taking father. My grandmother single handedly raised her 11 kids. My grandfather was a Bracero working in the deserts of Arizona picking fruits and vegetables for pennies a day. My father sold everything from coffee to Tupperware with his mother. They did this to make it out of Mexico and to the USA.
My dad was a dreamer. He had not completed high school in Mexico. He came to the USA at the age of 18 and made good money in a steel factory in Connecticut. Pero, that was not enough for him. His English was limited to “Okay”, “Hello” and “Thank you”. His lack of education and English did not stop him from enrolling in community college. It took my dad years to accomplish his goal. He learned English from a volunteer at a public library that would have him point to things and enunciate after her. He became a single father. He lost hope many times, but never gave up. In 1997 I watched my dad receive his bachelor’s degree. He is now a business owner and I could not be more proud. He even received his Masters of Business Administration. My dad works with his family, my abuelos are our neighbors, we went from living in a one bedroom apartment with 8 people to living comfortable in homes and it is all because my dad believed that education would get us here someday.
I owe my life to education. I owe it to tell children that there is a chance. We can defy odds. I‘ve seen it. I’ve done it. Education is the way to your dreams. That is why I choose this path as a career. I want to share my story and reach all those who feel alone. Education is not only for the chosen few.