Teaching vs. Testing – Episode 4: Remediation and Substitute Plans (2-24-15)

I missed posting yesterday, so for the record, both yesterday and today were completely dominated by test prep.

Yesterday and today were remediation days. We had to set up a remediation plan so show we were “doing something” to raise scores. In the past we have pulled students from PE or Elective to remediate them from the old writing test. Now we live in the era of End-Of-Course Exams in every subject, including Art and PE. We can’t pull from those classes, so now we pull from our own. It’s kind of cannibalistic.

I had already come up with a practice test to use, so everyone figured out which students they didn’t think were going to succeed on the FSA next Monday. I was soon making a list and checking it twice. I had to prepare substitute plans for my absence most of the day yesterday and today. This was fairly easy since most of my classes were taking the district assessment, which the substitute could handle. I felt privileged to have a sub, since we are generally out of sub funds, so most classes get sent to auditorium for study hall of the teacher is absent.

So the past two days I spent away from my own students attempting to focus small groups of students on the task of reading three articles I’d picked out about whether kids should receive allowance and then write an argument based on “text evidence.”

My thought as I worked hard to force feed “writing to text” to these remediation students was that what I was feeding them was the last thing they needed. If food is my metaphor, I guess what I was feeding them was some kind of health-food shake: supposedly good for you, but actually an artificial, “food-like” substance that tasted awful. What these students actually need is to do some real writing from life, from their imagination, about things they really care about. Real food. Organic, for lack of a better word. They need to be encouraged to care about things, period. One student got frustrated at one point and crumpled up his paper and threw it out and cried. I coaxed him back to working with us.

Will my efforts pay off in higher scores? Maybe, for a few. Will my efforts make them better writers for real, make them love writing, or express what really matters to them? Not a bit. I may have done more harm than good.

When I finished remediating, I had all those district assessments to grade, which is how I spent my planning and most of my evening. And I’m going to say, my education resistant 8th graders didn’t do very well for the most part. But my 6th and 7th grade students? They tried really hard– they excelled, so far as I can tell. I don’t really know without anchor papers or cut scores, which won’t be available until much later this year–after the test.

But my reaction to their success was twofold.

One, I felt relieved that they would probably do well on Monday’s FSA test.

And two, I felt kind of sullied by my own success with them. They had given me their best efforts for a kind of writing that doesn’t really matter much, a kind of writing that is formulaic and dull.

It makes me want to get to next Wednesday, after the FSA is over. Because then I am giving them to chance to choose a topic and make their own argument about whatever they want, using details from life, from their imaginations, or from texts of their own choosing. Next week they will write for real.

But we’d better do it quickly. Spring break is coming soon, and after it’s over, there’s more testing. Weeks and weeks of it.