I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

elusive (as it were) standards...

This number begins to consume my life during the end of May. To those of you that aren't elementary school teachers, 16 is a reading level. More specifically, it's the end of first grade benchmark reading level. Yes. This number is a Big. Deal.

This brings up a myriad of insecurities and judgments as I move toward the closing of the DRA assessment window: how many children will meet or exceed the benchmark? who didn't pass? what if I had just two more weeks? why didn't they pass? did I honestly and truly do everything I could have for [insert any child's name here]?

The self-doubt is exhausting.

Case in point. Ammir. Oh, heavens, he is a glorious child. This boy has been moving along in reading this year. His effort is stellar, his connections many. Everything we've talked about this year is right up there in his brain: schema, visualizing, making connections, digraphs, consonant blends, long vowels, short vowels, quick & easy words... all of it.

It's not quite automatic for him, though. If he confronts a word he doesn't know, and someone says, "well, do you see a consonant blend? or another part that you know?" he will always find something, and nine times out of ten, he'll figure out that word. So, he has everything that he needs; he just doesn't have it automatically yet. It doesn't always occur to him to ask himself those questions.

He will, though. This will come. Things will start clicking into place and he'll make sense of things rapidly.

But, as of Friday, he was reading at a level fourteen. This, according to my school system, is not passing performance. You see, children in our school system are expected to pass or be reading on a level 16. The kicker, though? Our children are expected to pass or be reading on this level by last Friday. School doesn't end for three more weeks.

Just to throw another little piece of information into this example, Ammir turned seven a week ago. Another one of my darlings that passed the level sixteen turned seven in December. Ailanya has five more months of existing than Ammir. When one is in their thirties, five months might not seem like a big deal, but that's nearly one-seventeenth of his life. If Ammir had those extra five months, I am confident that he would be well beyond a level sixteen. And yet, even though he was born near the end of the school year, he is still expected to fit into the same little box with all of the other children.

So, that's a bit of a tangent, I know, but I think it helps illustrate my mindset. In some ways, this standard is helpful, but in other ways it's quite arbitrary. It certainly doesn't paint the rich picture of who Ammir is as a reader or as a person.

Now, I don't disagree with standards, and I don't disagree with having a measure with which teachers can consult to guide instruction. Quite the opposite. But I do think that the very act of having standards automatically brings exceptions and places where the standard isn't going to be the best measure.

This is clearly one of those cases.

If I had my druthers, I would much rather write a full page narrative about each child during each grading period and use that to communicate with families and other teachers. It would take a lot more time, yes. But it would allow me valuable reflection on every student in my classroom and their progress and development as the months have gone on.

And it would certainly give a much more developed picture of a child than a single number ever will.


Jenny said...

I just went through my final numbers yesterday and was so depressed. Only 7 of my 17 darlings made benchmark according to the county. As you say, that really shows such a small part of them as readers. The progress others have made is phenomenal. Some scored poorly on the assessment due to external factors, I believe, problems at home, not enough sleep, distractions in the classroom, etc.

Sadly, it's always reassuring to hear others feeling the exact same frustrations.

masonhall said...

Well said! As an upper grade teacher we face standardized tests, yet have many of the same issues. It's eternally frustrating to me that kids are judged by numbers...

Ms. Swamp said...

Ah! I know the feeling well. I even know the number 16 well. Now that I teach second grade, my numbers are different, but still the same frustrations and sense of the arbitrary.

Mamie said...

OMG, as soon as I saw "16" I knew exactly what you were going to be writing about!!! Arrrrrgh... you summed up one of the few things I DON'T miss about classroom teaching.

kirsten said...

Jenny -- ahh, yes. Solidarity in frustrations. I'm sorry that you're feeling the same, and I agree completely with external factors being a large player in how children are able to learn.

mason -- I imagine it's even more frustrating as an upper grade teacher. There are so many standardized tests that your students take and it's a one day performance in all of those cases, rather than a look at them for the whole year.

Swampy -- I thought you would. :) Isn't 28 your Big Deal number now?

Mamie -- I'm both glad and unsettled that you knew exactly what I was going to write about after seeing the number. It is a disappointing thing to have that be such a be all and end all...

♥ to you all. :)