My students all had to take their fall NWEA language test today. That means seven straight class periods of me, sitting in the back of the room working on stuff while they silently answer questions on their iPad screens. A testing proctor comes in to get them logged in and monitor that everything is working fine, and I'm there to... Actually, I don't know why I'm there. I wish I wasn't. I wish I could stay away from school on days like this.
I know other teachers in my building really care about NWEA scores, and I'm not going to say that's wrong. I know quite a few people who think it's wrong that I actively don't give a %+*^ about those same scores, and that's their right. We teach in a society that's constantly demanding teacher and school accountability, and standardized tests are the way in which schools are judged. Some might say it's irresponsible for me not to care.
Here's the thing, though: my students don't just take these tests once a year. This is fall NWEA, and they'll take them again in the spring to chart growth (or lack of). They'll also take the Iowa Assessments in February, just in case enough data hasn't been collected yet. I don't use these scores for anything in my classroom, and luckily I don't have to (yet). Many teachers use NWEA reading scores to determine a student's reading lexile, and then only allow students to read within that lexile range (there's a reason spell check wants to change "lexile" to "exile"). I think the whole lexile business does more to kill love of reading than anything I've ever encountered. I don't limit my reading to books at a certain level, so I certainly don't want to force that on kids. I'm not the reading teacher, though, so I don't have a say and should probably keep my mouth shut.
My students are confused to say the least. They take NWEA in the other classrooms where they are told they will retake if they rush through and don't put in enough effort. Their scores are meticulously recorded the second they finish and tracked against the previous years'. I don't do any of this. I tell them to free read when they're finished and that I don't need to see their scores. I can check them online later when I have to for data reporting.
I was going to give them a pep-talk today. I rehearsed it in my head on the drive to school: something about how they are more than just numbers, and whatever pops on the screen does not tell me anything about how skilled they are as writers and people. I was going to tell them that when they are older, these numbers will have been for nothing. Their future employers, friends, and coworkers will have no idea how "smart" a for-profit testing company once told them they were or weren't. I wanted to tell them to try their best, but to not worry or base any kind of self worth on the results. But I couldn't.
The testing proctor was there, telling them to get started, scolding them for going too fast, worrying about who looked tired, who didn't finish, and who wasn't focused. And she was equally frustrated by the teacher who sat in the back of the room, observing and writing, but not placing the any importance on the test, setting a poor example for the test-takers.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.