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Home > School Issues Channel > School Issues Archive > Teach for America Diaries > Babak Mostaghimi's Diary > Entry #5

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Putting Faces on the Test-Takers
by Babak Mostaghimi


Laronda: Mr. Mostaghimi, I cant take this test with those kids in that room. She looked at the floor as tears start rolling down her cheeks and falling on the hallway floor. Mr. Mostaghimi: Whats wrong? Come on, Laronda, youre too smart to let some mess get in the way of your sample test. Laronda: But I aint as smart as them other kids. Mr. Mostaghimi: Laronda, you are just as smart and you can do it. Trust me. Youre a genius! Go on inside the room and try your best, thats all that matters.

Welcome to the start of testing season, when every child sees his or her years of hard work broken down into a one-word rating in a series of 55-question tests in each subject. In preparation every student is put through a grueling series of practice tests that are used to analyze and fill their remaining gaps in understanding before the real state tests. Each day involved test preparation with multiple choice questions that always point to a single correct answer and whittle enormous concepts into pinpoint questions that barely break the surface of determining true understanding.

This is not to say that tests are useless or that they cannot be made more useful, but that often testing is so overemphasized that teachers, administrators, and politicians often forget that the statistics they examine daily are children. The overemphasis on testing causes many children to view their ability and self-worth as determined by a single number or word score on a multiple-choice test rather than the hard work and effort they put into countless assignments and activities for school each day.

Testing fatigue reared its ugly head daily as students started to wear down and bend under the pressure of performing well. Some students broke into tears as they worried about how well they would perform on the tests and what the reaction of their peers, parents, and teachers would be to their scores. As one of my students put it: Mr. Mostaghimi, Im gonna try my hardest for you. Aint nobody want to let you down, sir."

Over the months that Ive been teaching in Shelby, I have felt like a baseball coach practicing and drilling his team in preparation for the big game. My players just happen to be 10- to-14 year-old fifth graders and my big game is a 55-question Science Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT). Like a coach giving his players a surprise break during practice the day before the big game, the day before the Science MCT, I decided to have a relaxed review day.

When class started, my students were ready to work, sitting with serious faces and notebooks open. As I looked on I realized that I did not have a class of children, instead I had a class of tired professionals ready to work once again. As soon as I announced our relaxed plans for the day, huge smiles emerged and playful giggles filled the air. I gave a win one for the team" speech and recognized my students for their achievements. We did review crossword puzzles and made variations of Fifth grade will rock the MCT" posters that plastered every hallway before the next morning.

For the first time this year, and to the astonishment of my students, I even took a seat at my desk to emphasize my confidence in them. While they worked on their puzzles and posters I called back students one at a time to talk with them about their achievement and to conquer any remaining doubts about their abilities. I realized that as teachers it is too easy for us to get caught up in test scores and results and that sometimes we forget to take a step back and remember that our children are children, not test-taking machines.

As I had conferences with each student, I was reminded of Larondas tears and words of despair during the very first sample MCT that we took. In such a short period of time Laronda and the entire class had come so far and now it was almost time for us to show what we had learned. When I called Laronda up this time, she looked at me with a gleaming smile. No more tears and doubts, only confidence and smiles. Laronda had trusted me and together we had conquered her worst fears.

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Article by Babak Mostaghimi
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Posted 03/21/2007