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Tossing and Turning at Test Time


Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on the stresses of testing time in her school. Maybe you will relate to her thoughts in this week's Voice of Experience essay, which Dyck subtitles "Sleepless in Calgary"! Included: Share your test week observations on an Education World message board.



It was one of those nights. My day had been filled with rehearsing my grade-six students for the next weeks' achievement exams. I couldn't sleep. All I could think of was the upcoming tests, why the students were continuing to struggle with the skills we had worked on so diligently, and what I could do next week to help debrief students before the exam.

I wondered why I was stewing about their success more than they were -- and at what point I might stop beating up myself for what they might or might not do on the tests.

I remembered how my weakest math student had handed in his paper just ten minutes into the 30-minute practice math test because he "was done"! He had even checked his work!

In the quiet of the hour, I tried to gain some perspective. I thought back to all the learning supports I had put in place throughout the year. In the next thought, however, I questioned whether I had provided enough writing and editing experiences so that my students could see the places in their writing that didn't make sense or the places that were humdrum and needed to be injected with some pizzazz.

Tossing and turning, I anticipated the pressure-cooker environment that would be part of my school next week. A poignant entry from principal Sue Fedor's online diary floated into my memory; in that entry, titled We Have Been Tested, Sue expressed her test week concerns.

"On Monday, everyone was out of sorts ... nerves were taut and stress observable among students, teachers, and parents alike. The principal was not feeling too gracious herself. Smiles were hard to come by. The tension was palpable everywhere in the school. Even the normally laid back among us found themselves snapping at one another."

Sue's diary entry made me think of the Pogo quote, "We have seen the enemy ... and it is us"!

Sue works in South Carolina, but her words might have been uttered by teachers in my school -- or yours. Are other teachers sleepless tonight like I am, I wondered.

One thing is for sure: Once those test scores are published in the newspaper, no one will ask whether the teacher did her best with the crew of kids she had or the teaching time he was allotted. No one will ask whether there is a connection between test scores and class size, ESL issues, too much curriculum, what was done in previous grades, or students' enthusiasm in the final weeks of the school year. No one will ask how far the kids came during the year or whether they became more confident in their ability to learn. All the public will see is the bottom line -- the score. That data will be publicly analyzed by parents and peers, and teachers like me will search for the resolve to find new and better ways to get those scores up next year.

I looked at the clock. It was 2:45 a.m. I got up and finished marking some social studies tests. Social studies achievement tests start in a month.

My thoughts and prayers are with those that test all this week. Help us sleep!

Brenda Dyck teaches at ABC Charter Public School, a school for gifted and talented children, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In addition to teaching sixth-grade math and science, Brenda is also the school librarian. She has written for various educational periodicals and is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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