Friday, April 26, 2013

I teach kids not data points

This was written by Jen Marten who has been a teacher for 25 years. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and is currently working on her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. She blogs here and tweets here. This post was originally found here.

by Jen Marten

Twenty-five years as a teacher, and never once have I had a student come back and say, “Hey, I remember that standardized test I took in your class.” By the same token, I’ve never run into a former student who said, “Do you remember me?” where I replied, “Yes! You’re Susie and you were advanced on your 5th grade state reading assessment.”

In fact, I can recall standardized testing data on only two students, both because of my frustration with a system that looked at data not kids. The first was a boy who scored below the 40th percentile on the NTBS test, and I had to write an At Risk plan for him even though I clearly knew he was not at risk. His parents had fled as refugees from Laos to France and then later immigrated to the U.S. He was taking a test in his THIRD language! The second was a girl who didn’t score high enough on the TAAS test to qualify her for honors English as a 6th grader. She was an avid reader; gifted at writing as well. The day before the test, her grandfather died. Her heart was grieving and her mind was somewhere else. That test score did not reflect her true ability. What I remember, in both instances, is pleading my case to not label one student at risk and fighting to get the other into a class that would fit her needs.

When I think about the hundreds of students who have passed through my classroom, I don’t think about numbers. I remember conversations, some about curriculum, many about books, but most about little things that were of the utmost importance to a particular child. I remember laughter and tears, aha moments when things clicked, and moments of frustration when they didn’t. I remember faces and names.

I remember:
  • the three 3rd grade boys my first year who said, “Why is it, every day your hair looks different, but you wear that same pair of earrings?”
  • the 3rd grader who gave me a card on Mothers’ Day that read, “To my other mother”
  • sweet little Dana saying, “Miss Smithers! Michelle (the class hamster) is in my desk!”
  • playing football with my 5th grade boys on Fridays because I was allowed to wear jeans and a school t-shirt
  • eating lunch in the classroom with small groups of kids, hearing about their families, their friends, their dreams
  • going to soccer games and seeing a different side of kids
  • the 5th grade class that tried to fix me up with a mortician on Career Day because he was my age, and they didn’t want me to be lonely
  • the day my rough and tumble tomboy realized that the ‘perfect’ girl in the class really didn’t have a perfect life
  • taste testing homemade tamales because two of my boys each insisted his mom made the best (for the record, it was a tie – both were delicious!)
  • the class who made me a handprint tablecloth as a wedding gift and forgot to put paper under it so their handprints bled through to the carpet
  • the day a student with behavioral issues asked me for a break rather than throwing a chair
  • the kid who was held back twice before 5th grade who drew me pictures but didn’t want his friends to know
  • the kid who told me he wanted to be a rodeo clown
  • the girl who wrote the most amazing story….about the stench of a dirty litter box
  • the class that wrote ‘human’ in the blank that said Race on their middle school registration forms
  • the kid who quoted Monty Python and was duly impressed when I quoted the next line back at him
  • bursting out laughing when I told a younger student named Forrest to walk in the hall but one of my 5th grade boys called out, “Run, Forrest, Run!” from the back of my line
  • reading the climax of Searching for David’s Heart aloud, tears streaming down my face and looking around at my class and realizing there was not a dry eye in the room
  • the discussions that occurred during the trail decisions of our westward movement simulation; discussions about sharing water, leaving people behind, about picking good leaders
  • the team building fieldtrip when my group realized that the quietest kid in the class had some of the best ideas

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in assessing students for learning, but tests given in sterile environments, where the emphasis on rules and procedures trumps common sense, breed contempt for true learning. (When I taught in Texas I had to cover ALL my bulletin boards before the test and was even asked to put tape over the locker numbers in the back of my room!) Imagine your boss coming into your work area, covering up or taking all the materials you need to do your job, forbidding you to speak with your co-workers, and then giving you a task to complete.

I teach kids not data points. What I know about them doesn’t come from a bubble test. It comes from conversations, collaboration, and authentic assessment.

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