Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Standardized Testing Blues

Now that Christmas Break is almost over and the count down to the STAAR (or whatever test your state does) has begun... I'm beginning to feel the Standardized Testing Blues.

STAAR is new to our state this year (replacing TAKS) and so far it has been very disorganized from this Reading Teacher's point of view. There will be a STAAR reading test but throughout the year all focus has been on Science and Math. Both subjects have had a multitude of benchmarks so they can see what the test will look like and the kids can begin to become familiar to the new language and set up of the test but there has been nothing for reading.

Finally, the last week before Christmas Break they released a Reading test... awesome... the worst week possible for those kids to see a hard test for the very first time. Also, Math and Science were given all kinds of resources to teach from this year and Reading was given nothing. I have had to either use old TAKS materials which are no where near what STAAR will be now or make everything on my own. I'm a little miffed about it.

Now what I'm hating about STAAR....
Math and Science seem to be pretty straight forward in their questions and not completely confusing in their wording. Sounds right with straight forward subjects. Now reading is a gray area where you have to dissect and make connections and understand. So why are they making the actual understanding of the questions part of the test??? Students came to me with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade reading levels yet the questions sound like a junior high. They call it "upping the rigor" but all I see is where we are no longer even teaching a skill but they have to decipher the question before they can even begin. Now add the much much harder questions and then they put a 4 hour limit on the entire test?? Really? So my 3rd grade reading level students will have to read 4-5 passages with extremely difficult questions in 4 hours? What ever happened to having time to think about what you are reading and make connections? Not to mention those students who need to read it a few times to get it or read parts over again will not have the time. I was even told that someone at a STAAR training said not to teach the kids to write strategies throughout the test because they won't have the time. Are you kidding me? Maybe at high school I would expect them to be able to comprehend without writing a single note or taking time to think it through but we are talking about 10 year olds here. Shouldn't they have to learn how to make those mental connections and work through a passage before being expected to just fly through it in 4 hours no problems?

It's not that I don't want my students to be challenged, I challenge them every day in the classroom. But I think there is a difference between "Do you know this skill?" and "Can I write a way above you in language question and have you figure out all the confusing nonsense before your time runs out?" I get that we need "tests" to show the kids are learning but this test is not set up so that all students have a chance for success. It will work for those bright students who get everything quickly. I don't know what has happened in the recent years to make reading levels so much lower when they come to me each year but I don't see TAKS or STAAR improving this problem.

Here is an example of the difference:

How TAKS would test figurative language:
"Following her heart" in paragraph 15 means that Amanda will.....

How STAAR tests figuarative language:
The author's use of figurative language in paragraph 15 emphasizes that....

Now my low readers will have to look in paragraph 15 and decide if they need to look for a metaphor, a simile, an idiom, an adage, personification, or an onomatopoeia.

My question, we don't want to teach to the test but how can I get a student prepared for a question like that if I don't know they are going to throw in the word "emphasizes" or won't give an example anymore. I don't think it is right to keep students in the dark about how a question can be worded when that one word will mess everything up for those low readers.

We were told the key to STAAR is to try to think of how many different ways they could ask about one objective. I'm so busy trying to get my low readers to understand the concepts that it is becoming a major challenge to try to fathom what they might have come up with. Teachers have to become psychics now instead of teaching reading skills and helping students improve their reading abilities.

Sorry for the long rant... I'm just having a moment and wanted to vent :)

Good luck in your classroom in the months to come!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom

This past week I had my 5th graders analyze the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. First we went over vital vocabulary like "trodden" and "hence" and then read together and talked about metaphors and which metaphors we found in the poem. The next day I had them brainstorm as a group life choices like a person at varying life ages would come across, then made a class list of each group's top two. The next two days (I only get 45 minutes for reading :/) they created a poster. The group was split to one of two parts of the poster. Group A divided their poster part in half then on one side had to draw what the poem says and on the other draw what the poem means. Group B had to write the main metaphors of the poem and a "Look into Human Life Choices" and made a list of life choices from class. They also write the title and author. Once they were both done, we taped them together and hung them in the classroom. I had them put their name on the back of the poster part they had done. They turned out wonderful! I will take some pics (forgot my camera of course) and post them as soon as I can.

What poems do you do in your classroom and how do you have the students analyze and work through them??