"Gentleman, start your engines," or in our case, "Students, start your brains." This week Connecticut's version of high-stakes testing begins its annual takeover of public education. Testing is important, don't get me wrong; I'm just not sure what we learn from them that we don't already know.
Philosophically, I don't believe in "teaching to the test" in the way that many envision it. I don't spend every class session practicing the CAPT, but I do embed the skills needed to succeed throughout the first half of the school year. Then, just prior to the exams, I provide my students with the knowledge of the test itself in an effort to show them what they must do to be successful.
For instance, when teaching the Response to Literature section, a short story and four essay questions, we examined the questions, the explanations of a strong response, the scoring rubric, and four different released essays scored across the rubric spectrum.
My students, even my fundamental level students who most wouldn't predict to pass, compared these released items and searched for defining factors. They noted that all of the passing essays included at least one quotation from the text, if not two. They recognized that all of the passing scores had essays which exceeded 150 words. They were aware of the essays which used the language of literature like theme, mood, imagery, syntax, and diction.
Then we did one more practice.
My fundamental level students worked hard. They attempted to include quotations, and the language of literature. Their responses were A level work for them. Their effort was A level as well.
But most still won't meet standard. The fact that the test is timed means that many of my below grade level readers will not finish the story with enough time to write enough in their essays. Or, they will not get into the story and grow bored by yet another high falutin story geared towards suburban students.
I am especially proud of these students who have been allowed to get so far behind that, by the time they've reached me, are three or more grade levels behind. So many in our community look down on these kids, and their attitudes reflect this lack of belief.
From the first day of school, I told them that I could get them ready for this test, that if they would buy into me, and buy into themselves, then together we would prove a whole bunch of naysayers wrong.
Unfortunately, I may have overstated my ability.