Recently, in March Madness , I reflected on the practice SBA for English that we administered at my high school, and admittedly was in a frustrated place. My students who will test this year: my junior AP Language and Composition students. What if they “fail”? How will their “failure” reflect on my professional choices and practices regarding their learning? Will I be deemed incompetent? Will I be allowed to continue teaching the courses I have worked so hard to develop or will I be replaced with someone who might give a better test score on this one test? Will I be publicly shamed and called to account for what will ultimately be labeled as my failure? Have I done everything I possibly can to ensure their success and more importantly their learning of the skills necessary to go on and be successful in life? I was ready to throw up my hands.
Flight is not an option. So, I settled on scoring and reflecting. I found that all of my students, according to the practice test, were either at or near standard, or exceeding standard in every claim category. Every one of my students received a 3 or 4 for their overall achievement level (Disclaimer: I teach 1 section of AP Language and Composition to 20 juniors; the rest of the time I work with seniors). As I looked at their scale scores, the level indicators for the claim categories, and what I knew regarding the responses I had scored, I was a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I’m still not completely sure what all of that information means. I was relieved at the end report, but wasn’t sure about why. What does all of that information really mean in the context of the larger picture?
I have to live with the fear and get focused on what I have learned from the process and how it can make a positive impact on future action: both my own and my colleagues’. I came to realize that my students are better prepared than I had thought. They are aware of what they will see when they sit down to test. I know where my kids are on this “new” scale. I have an idea of what goes into scoring and I have an idea of what the test asks. Most importantly I see our building-wide focus on literacy across the content areas is paying off. In the end, our focus on the standards and our focus on creating authentic, quality learning experiences is what will benefit our kids the most in their lives. That is the message I choose to take to my colleagues. Keep doing it!
I can see where we get caught up in the fight. However, I feel it’s essential to distinguish between what we value and what we would like to possibly see changed. We value student learning and success. We value student growth and want to see our students succeed this year and every year of their lives. The CCSS are not really anything new: when have we not had standards to guide our teaching and learning? Standards to clarify and communicate what we value? I don’t see something to fight about there. The measurement is new and with new and unknown comes that fear and fight. With new comes the need for reflection and possible revision. Like any good writer, test writers will have to reflect and adjust. Nothing and no one is ever perfect. But the goal for kids is still what it has always been–learning.
So while I don’t have all the answers to the beginning questions I do know this: Flight is not an option. Sometimes we need the fight, but I think I’d rather shift gears…and drive this thing! The standards are a shift in our thinking, a shift in our approach, but not a shift in our end goal. Our goal is still what it has always been: to make sure that every kid, every day, in every class has quality learning experiences that will help them on their way to being college and career ready, or as I like to think of it: life ready. Literacy matters, in fact I truly believe it is the key, and a large part of what the standards are doing is helping kids increase their literacy life skills.
So instead of running away or pitching a fit, let’s get this baby running! The driving force: literacy. Regular practice reading complex texts in all content areas; writing and speaking grounded in evidence from the text; building content knowledge through reading, writing, speaking and listening. The core shifts: creating authentic literacy learning experiences for kids across the curriculum. We know how to do what is best for kids. Thoughtful conversations and deliberate actions will separate out the pieces that reflect what we value from the pieces that get in the way. We can keep making learning better and keep helping kids grow. We are what we value so throw it in gear and keep driving forward!