Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reflection on Testing

Hello Everyone! Still up and feeling lively after tonight's chat on Formal Testing Practices! Wonderful to have so many voices weigh in on this controversial subject! We had special guests! experts! a testing company! and voices from Indonesia, UK, Honduras, Canada, Australia and the US all talking testing and young children. Very exciting!

First a formal Thank You to those who made a special effort to join us tonight:
We knew it would be a hotbed topic tonight, so I made sure to have some additional backup on my end by heading over to my parents homestead and visiting my Dad, a 30+ year educational testing consultant. I must say it was really interesting moderating, listening to my father roam on about testing AND follow the conversation! I guess I am still fired up from all the juggling!

While many oppose standardized testing with young children, it's important to remember its not the test but what you do with the results that hinges its evil-ness factor. Testing companies will tell you these tests are not designed for the purpose of evaluating teachers. It's the politics of the results that corrupts this basic assessment practice.

Personally, I cheer that I no longer have to manually assess if Sue, Taneisha, Johnny, Sara, Paul, Patrice, Jackson, Joey, Kendra, Sam, Bob, Kaley, Ava, Olivia, Daeqwan, Mark, Josie, Rachel, Kenneth and John can all rote count to 100, identify a set of simple shapes and the lower and upper case letters. Certainly when their parents come in for conferencing, that is information I want to share with them. I appreciate that I can outsource that entire process.

But I am not being evaluated as a professional based on the success or failure of my 5 year old student's performance on a letter identification test. Therefore, we have no long hours of test prep, no narrowing of the curriculum to drive up my results, no fatigue. Its fun. Its a computer game we play.

It's funny to me that we have had chat after chat on so many diverse topics, but nothing like the word "test" gets a bee in people's bonnet. It's not the test, but what you do with it. Are you grading and evaluating students on your science test? How is that different than a testing company or a policy maker politicizing the results? High school and Middle school teachers use their own tests to create camps and blocks of children based on their performance on a single evaluation of "the material" all the time.

Maybe that won't be a popular statement, but try to pry the gradebook from many a teachers hand and you will see what I mean! How is it kindergarten teachers evaluate children each day without grades, grade books or in some cases, like our friends in Canada or the UK, no standardized testing for 5 year olds?

Testing isn't teaching- its just one form of assessment. One form of 100 other forms we Kindergarten teachers use each day. One form that slowly morphs and molds into the only form for some uninformed. Anytime you take a one-dimensional look at multi-dimensional people and a three dimensional learning process, there are bound to be problems.

Thanks to all who came out tonight! Thanks for your professionalism, your sharing, your community and your work each day teaching the earth's children.

Amy Archived the chat here and here! It was a double! Be sure to check it out for more tidbits than I can ever include in here! Will have to re read over a few times myself!

Thanks for keeping it real.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Testing the testing waters

So. Monday (April 25). The topic is Formal Testing and Assessment in Kindergarten. If you do a quick search of the hashtag, you will see: there is quite a bit of buzz about this topic. People are coming who do not usually join us when we discuss glue management (If you don't know why we would need to discuss that, you clearly have not taught kindergarten for long enough). Some of those "people" are companies who CREATE standardized tests. Some of them are schools who believe in those tests. Some of them are teacher advocates who berate the tests. Most are teachers who use the tests against their own better judgement, because they have little choice. Surely you can see the potential for mudslinging and finger-pointing, just as clearly as I can.

Before I go on, I think I need to air some bias: I am a Canadian. I attended Canadian schools. I now teach in a Canadian school. We do not have, use, accept, believe in, standardized testing as it is used in the US. The thought of kindergarten students being subjected to this kind of testing makes me ill. I think it has no business in a classroom. Related: I think BUSINESS has no business in a kindergarten classroom. Hmm, now that I think about it, that last sentence nicely sums up the reasons that the thought of Monday's chat is already kind of giving me a stomachache: it seems so very difficult to discuss testing without it turning into a discussion of The American Education System and Everything That is Wrong With It and How It is Everyone's and No One's Fault, All at the Same Time. Believe me, I definitely have some opinions about all of those things, but the entire debate is so huge, so complicated, and so deeply personal for so many people that it often overwhelms me. I am fairly certain I am not alone in my overwhelmed-ness.

So, in preparation for the upcoming chat, please let me clarify: Our topic for Monday is NOT educational reform. It is NOT a debate on the relative merits and flaws of charter/public/private schools. It is NOT a discussion of No Child Left Behind, or of Race to the Top. We will not discuss whether Bill Gates is or should be a relevant figure in the efforts to "fix" America's schools. We will not discuss the definition of "good teacher" vs "bad teacher," nor we will discuss unions, merit pay or the value of seniority. If you want to request a #kinderchat about any of those things, we will consider it, but this Monday, we have only 1 hour, so let's make it a good one.

Our chat is, and remains, a community primarily composed of teachers, teaching kindergarten, all over the world. We welcome and embrace non-teachers, whether you are administrators, non-profit groups, specialists, authors, artists, parents, student-teachers, or private enterprise. However, our priority in all of our topics is to address the experience of teaching kindergarten. That said, our conversation for Monday will use the following definition:

Standardized testing refers to the administration of externally-created (i.e. not by teacher or school district), norm-referenced, tests or assessments that are given to all students in your grade level.

With that as backdrop, let's frame our discussion around these questions: 
  • Do you/are you required to administer standardized tests in your kindergarten program?
  • Which tests do you use, or have you used? (Please remember when dropping acronyms that our chat is an international group, and it is helpful to provide links or full titles, at least the first time you mention a test.) What is the best/worst test you ever administered?
  • What curriculum areas/developmental domains do those tests address? Do you feel those tests provide meaningful feedback to you as a teacher on children's skills and progress?
  • What is the testing experience like for the students? 
  • Do you feel the tests themselves are developmentally appropriate? Is it possible to do standardized testing in a group situation in a developmentally appropriate way?
  • Does the presence of testing affect what/how you teach?
I want to be clear: I am not opposed to our chats including opinions (Lord knows, I myself would not be safe or welcome in a place where opinions were not allowed!), and I think there is value in providing a forum for a variety of viewpoints. As we approach this complicated topic, which is so closely linked to  some pretty inflammatory issues, let us remember some things I wrote as the lead-up to our last potentially controversial topic:
  1. No teacher, school, board, district, city, or country, is handling these issues perfectly.
  2. Everyone participating has a genuine desire to improve their own practice and policy.
  3. Everyone participating is willing to answer questions regarding their classroom practices and policies.
  4. Everyone participating is doing their very best to ask questions in an open and respectful manner.
  5. In spite of the limitations of 140-character text communication, the default "tone of voice" in the chat is warm, curious, genuine, and respectful.
We are, according to many, "the nicest chat on Twitter." Let's prove them right.


Monday, April 11, 2011

To blog or not to blog

Well, it has been a while since I posted any commentary to go with the archive, hasn't it? But how could I resist the opportunity to be all meta, and blog about tweeting about blogging? Did you REALLY think I would let THAT pass me by?

Anyway, tonight's chat was as enjoyable, engaging, and uplifting as always. I love love love when newcomers comment on how we are the nicest chat on all of Twitter. I love that we (both collectively and individually) are developing digital reputations as good citizens and kind, helpful, human beings. Tonight's topic included some discussion of parental concerns regarding classroom blogs. I think there is still a significant amount of fear out there about The Big Bad Internet. Who better to help put those fears to rest than a group of kindergarten (and kindergarten-at-heart) teachers?

Nicely done, folks.

Here is the archive, read all about it.


P.S. The answer to the title question is, clearly: TO BLOG!