Celebrate This Week: Some perspective on being “average”

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

Today I celebrate being “average” – or, rather, I celebrate having some perspective on being “average”… which is what my students and I received for our PARCC scores last year.

Average.

When my principal shared this news with me, I went  through various stages of disbelief and grief: shock, confusion, mortification, embarrassment, shame…and sorrow.  What had happened? How could this be?  My principal was kind and supportive: here are some web sites and resources he said, you may want to think of some ways in which you can change up preparation he advised.

I walked back into my classroom in a daze, then sat at my desk and looked over our room…at the photograph of last year’s class:

I looked at each face, bright and happy, full of the joy and promise of being twelve and having so much growing and thriving ahead.  My kids were not (are not) average.  I thought of all the work we had done in our sixth grade year together: thinking, reading, writing, and questioning.  We had not thought in terms of below average, average or above average.  We had thought in terms of do your best,  push yourself, grow yourself, believe in yourself.

And then I thought about the test, and how the very structure of it ran counter to all the ways in which we had worked together to read, write and make meaning of text: experiencing the whole of a text in order to carefully decipher plot, character development and theme as opposed to excerpts of chapters (from texts that were developmentally inappropriate) and (even worse) poems.  I thought of the poorly worded questions, and the multiple choice answers which were calibrated to confuse rather than clarify.  I remembered how frustrated my students were when we had taken practice tests: what are they asking? what does this even mean? 

And then my shame gave way to anger.  I am all for assessments and accountability – I believe that both are vital to education, and to maintaining both rigor and relevance to what we teachers do in our classrooms every day of the school year.  But give us an assessment that aligns with what we teach, and how we teach.  Hold us accountable to meaningful teaching practices, the kind that we invest so much of our time and energy, the kind that we  commit ourselves to every single teaching day.

My kids have to know how to take tests, I know this.  There are many tests ahead of them, all of which will determine their entrance into high school classes, high school itself, and then college, graduate school and employment in the wider world.  I want them to be confident test takers, because so much of how I teach is geared towards making them confident learners: do your best,  push yourself, grow yourself, believe in yourself.   I want them not to see themselves in terms of calibrations of average but as being eminently capable of achieving anything.

In need of clarification ( and, yes, validation), I reached out to my Voxer group of teacher friends about tests, scores, and all that they have come to mean.  I loved these words from Julieanne Hartmatz:

I want them to be relaxed but I want them to be confident, because in life we have to do this, in life we have to take tests…we need to know how to do this world, but I don’t want to take away who they are and what it means to be human and know what really matters in the world…

Yes!  And so I think I am ready now to put the thought of “average” aside and move forward.  Learning my scores for last year at this stage, when we have just completed this year’s PARRC, did us no good.  Perhaps the scores for this year’s class will  be “average”, too.

But my kids are not average.  We are more than a single score – and that score  is but a single snapshot of our year long and life long learning lives, which are rich, meaningful, challenging and relevant.   We do work that matters.   And I celebrate that.

the art of knowing

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15 thoughts on “Celebrate This Week: Some perspective on being “average”

  1. So much to do in this world and you are setting the stage for your kiddos. Filling them up with purpose and tools to encounter and continue the pursuit of knowledge. The Rumi quote says it all. The job of leading students towards a lifetime of learning is far, far from average. I celebrate you in knowing what to pay attention to.

  2. There is so much that is unsaid in test scores. Although I have never been in your classroom, I read your blog posts about your teaching and your students and average does not fit anywhere. We just have to keep moving forward with what we know is best.

  3. And this is what demoralizes teaching, the fact that these tests use the power to place a word upon a class, a teacher, one who does teach what matters. I too am dumbfounded, am sorry that you had this happen. From all the words you’ve shared, and words of yours that I often shared with my colleagues, I want to thank you for what you do, for sharing your teaching and your class with us. I always told my own children when they were tested that the tests tried to trick, so be wary, and remember the information is just for a group of people who aren’t with you learning, just looking at a bunch of numbers.

  4. “Average” does not tell the story, does it? You know the kids, who they are, how they learn, how much they have grown. I celebrate your students and what matters together with you.

  5. The act of knowing IS knowing what to ignore. It’s easier said than done but so valuable. Thank you for speaking for all of us above average people who are not the number that arrives in the mail.

  6. Tara, I love this! And I am saddened by it. Every year I am saddened by an aspect of test taking on these high stakes tests. No child is average. Each child is unique and our job is to support the child as s/he discovers that uniqueness and potential. Knowing how to take tests is a skill necessary to teach and learn. This skill has little to do with that uniqueness that lies within. One is necessary. The other is vital. Keep teaching for the vital.

  7. I never mastered the art of taking the test, and I know I will never be able to teach to the test. So here we are, doing our best to make our students the best they can be: “push yourself, be your best, grow yourself, believe in yourself.” This will take them farther than any one test that labels you and them “average.”

  8. Tara, thank you for eloquently writing something I have struggled with. As a grade 3 teacher, I have a month more before my kids write their standardized test mandated by our Ministry of Education. I will hold your words close to me as I have worked with a group of children that have come so far and we have done so much “learning that matters” but I am not sure that all that will be demonstrated in the test. As you said, it will be a “single snapshot of our year long and life long learning lives, which are rich, meaningful, challenging and relevant. “ Regardless of the scores, I know the learning in our class has mattered and the students have developed into mindful, inquisitive, and creative thinkers and learners. Thank you Emily.

  9. Tara, thank you for eloquently writing something I have struggled with. As a grade 3 teacher, I have a month more before my kids write their standardized test mandated by our Ministry of Education. I will hold your words close to me as I have worked with a group of children that have come so far and we have done so much “learning that matters” but I am not sure that all that will be demonstrated in the test. As you said, it will be a “single snapshot of our year long and life long learning lives, which are rich, meaningful, challenging and relevant. “ I know the learning in our class has mattered and the students have developed into mindful, inquisitive, and creative thinkers and learners.

  10. Thank you for this thoughtful post and for putting it all in perspective. There’s no way that a single test can measure the learning that occurs in a classroom where students are constantly encouraged to “…do your best, push yourself, grow yourself, believe in yourself.” Hurray for you, your classroom , and your students who are definitely above average and who will never forget the year the spent with you. You do work that matters – I celebrate with you!

  11. The snapshot that comes from a standardized test doesn’t ever come close to providing any of us with a full picture. I am sorry for your frustration and that you had to work through this news, but grateful for the wisdom you shared as you gained perspective. Really can’t imagine that there is anything average about what happens in your classroom.

  12. Tara, I am sorry that you had to go through various stages before coming to terms with the accountability issue. I truly hope your principal was supportive when he delivered that score to you. If we could only put aside the quantifiers and know that there is a magic in “good” teaching practice that overshines a score. If we could understand the issues behind accountability and how they should only be a way to inform our instruction not put a damper on it. What if we could all say that numbers & their word counterparts are just one piece of data and not the whole piece we might be able to rejoice in what we do best, teach!

  13. I wonder what kind of tests you (and others) could come up with to demonstrate meaningful teaching practices? I wish we could let a group of teachers have a shot at it to see if we could get something better!

  14. Pingback: Slice of Life Tuesday:Thinking about think of Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana… | A Teaching Life

  15. Upon reading your TWT post today, I saw this link and clicked on it…wanting to know what was weighing so heavily on you. I completely empathize since I ended my career with a rating of Developmental (which is not even average!), followed by the same rating the following fall just when I was told I had Stage 4 cancer! Talk about feeling miserable…and ashamed. I taught ESL students, and gave them 110% of myself every day. There was nothing “developmental” about how I taught; I know that since I worked hard at collaboration with their classroom teachers; finding appropriate reading materials for them; differentiating each and every day, every period. And they were making good progress in their language arts studies, just not the kind that is recognized be state testing that is completely inappropriate for them. It was a bitter pill to swallow and I can still taste it sometimes, but I just keep telling myself I did the best I could…and so did my students.

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