* Christopher and me: defining success

Christopher failed the reading portion of the End of Grade (EOG) tests.

Christopher 1

I tutor my precious nephew, Christopher, a 4th grader on the AU spectrum.  He’s made terrific progress in the past year, with gains in vocabulary and reading comprehension.  But was it enough?  During a benchmark trial for the EOGs at school, Christopher melted down with tears and distress.  After 3 hours of testing, he had answered 7 out of 45 questions.

In our follow-up tutoring sessions, Christopher spoke angrily about the injustice of test questions that were meant to “trick” him.  He stated accurately that he could not read the test passages.  What to do?  If the EOGs were an accurate measure of his growth, I would have been very concerned.  In reality, Christopher’s gains are best measured against specific objectives on an IEP, not against grade level norms.  His reading performance remains well below that of his peers, but remarkably above where he was a year ago.  And we have long abandoned efforts for him to read orally; he cannot maintain focus, he benefits from seeing what he hears, and natural phrasing helps him use context for unfamiliar words.

Knowing that he would likely produce a test misadministration for himself and the other kids in his small testing group, I suggested- gulp- that he not attempt to read the passages but instead read the questions and scan for answers.  Using this strategy on grade level passages in our sessions, he scored about 50% accuracy.  That would have to do.  The alternatives were unacceptable.

Christopher called me every night in the week-long EOG countdown.  His determination to succeed in this rather hopeless endeavor was both encouraging and heartrending.  “What does ‘most likely’ mean, Aunt Katharine?”  “What are key words?”  I reaffirmed my conviction that he would do his best and that I was proud of him.  Christopher survived.  He did not lose the gains we had made, he does not know he “failed,” and he will continue to grow.  Going forward, audio books with a visual component will be the key for Christopher’s ongoing instruction in all academic areas.

I understand the need for standardized testing, but I value the effort Christopher has made, his desire to keep learning, and the confidence he has gained this year from measurable growth in his skills.  The 4th grade EOG does not define Christopher’s future.

* Um, Yeah–It Actually IS about Testing

My take on testing is that you end up on the instructional trajectory with which you began. Like this educator, if you start out with inquiry-based learning, you are more likely to end up with authentic assessment. If you start out as a testlet instructor, you end up with bubble sheets.

My So-Called Literacy Life

There are a myriad of reasons why families and students decide to opt out or refuse standardized testing. Some refuse because they resent the number of hours teachers spend testing (and “preparing”) students when they could be engaging in more meaningful instruction and assessment. Some refuse because they are frequently tied to teacher evaluation, which most reasonable, public education-savvy people would agree is unfair. Some refuse because they–let’s face it–will find any excuse they can to jump onto the Outraged American bandwagon.

angry_mob Pretend there’s a bandwagon in this image.

A popular refrain among those who are opting out or refusing this kind of testing almost always includes some version of “we are not opposed to tests in general, just to standardized/high-stakes/one-size-fits-all tests.” They then go on to list the number of ways that standardized and/or high-stakes testing traumatizes students and undermines the value of authentic, meaningful learning.

But as those charming sisters featured…

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