For the fifth time this year (so the 11th day), I proctored the MCAS to various students for various subject areas. Students who needed a wide-range of accommodations were paired with me in tiny or large rooms. I am glad that I am a provider of consistent accommodations, silly faces throughout the exam, and healthy snacks and treats.
However, I am not glad that I need to watch children sit through a high-stakes, high-anxiety situation. I try to teach strategies to help students cope with these types of feelings – because we all know these feelings don’t go away just because high school is over – but it still hurts my soul to watch students become upset over these exams. I’ve watched as students use paperclips and pushpins to scratch and cut themselves, cry through the entire (3-hours) exam period, and even hold their breath until they passed out so they didn’t have to take the exam (oh, but we still made him). While these behaviors are extreme and are not universal to all students, we need to stop and think about why do these things happen!
Not only do I watch my students take these exams, I am somewhat required to ensure that my little ones are ready to take (and pass) these exams. Perhaps if students feel they are more “prepared” for the exam, they will not see the exam as pure torture. I’ve noticed, in the past, when I stress obvious test-prep, the students tend to freak out more in the actual exam. So that’s not very helpful.
In the future, I may be judged on the scores my students earn on these exams. At the moment, there is just a dark cloud that rests over me that grows for each student who does not pass. And a bit of guilt that on the first try some of my students don’t successfully jump over this hurdle and that they need to sit through this painful experience again. And sometimes again. I try to tell myself that my value as a teacher cannot be measured through pass rates or growth percentiles, but you know, many people think and tell me otherwise.
I talk with students, parents, administrators, other teachers, and outside partners about our next steps for preparing for the next round of retests. When I talk with students, I stress that I have several back-up plans for them in case they do not pass the last rounds of retests. And I do! And they see that! So they can relax about potentially not receiving a high school diploma but instead focus on asking questions about topics they don’t understand and help each other by reviewing their open-response write-ups.
When I interact with liberal educators, and the topic roles around to high-stakes exams, there is always a group that suggests we encourage students to boycott the exam like other groups have. I would love for a system that use portfolios – rather than a single exam – to determine if a student holds a sufficient amount of knowledge/skills to move on. Can we get there through boycotting? What will I lose (I mean, other than my job) if I talk to children about it?
Part of me wants to continue to ride the train of good curriculum that pushes critical thinking will help students prepare for exams like the MCAS. Part of me wants to incorporate more Do Nows/Exit Tickets/Periodic Multiple-Choice Questions into the usual curriculum to assist in assessing mastery of the standards I created (from a variety of sources) and for test prep. I need to think deeper about how this may be implemented.
Who knows, as I think about it more, I may try to stage a revolt against the whole system.