In Reading Workshop, they read books of their own choosing and write letters to me making connections to other books, to their own lives, or to the world. They visualize settings and infer character motivation from their actions. All of this is done with great excitement because they are reading self-selected books. Students leaving my class love to read.
In Writing Workshop, something similar happens. They write a novel during NaNoWriMo in November, and their confidence soars. They choose what they will write about, and discuss strategies with me and with their writing partners. Students leaving my class love to write.
The school district currently emphasizes project-based learning (PBL) as one way to implement the new Common Core Standards. Both PBL and the new standards focus on critical thinking and problem solving, on student-directed activities. It’s a very exciting time to be a teacher.
Yet this week I watch my students take the state standardized tests. In unity they open their answer sheets and write their names. All together they turn to the day’s testing section. I read the same words heard by every student in the state at this grade level. Then quiet falls over the room like a cloak as they begin. There is no collaboration here, no project, no open-ended response. It’s all right or wrong, bubble in the answer.
Parents push their children to do well on state testing because they think the scores are important. I don’t know any teacher who feels this way. Any test only shows what a student knew on that particular day at that particular time. As with any test, scores are affected by the student’s health (testing is always at the height of allergy season), the weather (testing always happens on the first warm, sunny week that promises summer), and the classroom environment. Sitting in rows silently, not able to get up out of your seat for two hours, is not how I normally teach.
I know that state testing is changing when Common Core comes to California. It will be computer-based, which will heighten student interest, and more interactive. I will reserve judgment until I actually see the test, but I don’t see how standardized testing can assess the most important skills we teach: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.