Monday, March 28, 2016

Twas the Night Before Writing STAAR

It's THAT time of year again. When Spring Break has come and gone, the kiddos start to get a tad restless, and an important assessment is coming up. Y'all know what I'm talking about... STAAR. 

I could write an entire SERIES of blog posts regarding my feelings about high stakes testing for my 4th graders. However, I'll boil it down to this: While STAAR is an important test, it is just ONE snapshot of many to gauge student understanding. 

I struggle every year finding the balance between preparing my kiddos yet not extinguishing their love of learning. On one side, I want my kiddos to be set up for success regarding the STAAR. I want them to walk into my school on the day of the test knowing EXACTLY what to expect and EXACTLY how to do well. I want them to have had experience with the types of questions and essays so there will be no surprises come test day. My kiddos should go to bed the night before the test with not a worry in their minds as they feel ready with all the practice, pep talks, instruction (small and whole group), and writing we've done. They will OWN that test! 

However, another side of me cringes a little at the above paragraph. Isn't the best STAAR prep solid teaching all year long? Isn't that what the test itself is supposed to be- just a spotlight demonstrating what we've been doing to ensure kiddos are on track? "Teaching to the test" is a tense phrase in education- it's usually accompanied by red sirens going off in educators' heads. It has a terrible connotation and rightly so. It alludes to teaching that is ONLY geared towards doing well on a test. There is nothing past strategically answering multiple choice questions by eliminating incorrect answers and proving correct ones. Where is the higher level projects? What about learning through 21st century devices and collaboration? How about applying the knowledge to a real world situation and creating a product? 

I've come to appreciate the middle ground. All year long, I work my hardest to incorporate higher level skills, collaboration, technology and application. However, I also work to expose my kiddos to the formatting of the test. Multiple choice questions are part of a student's life. They need to know the best strategies of working through each answer choice, going back to the passage to find evidence, and proving each correct answer. I want my kiddos to LOVE learning at a higher level, and I want them to excel taking the STAAR test. Is it too much to want both worlds? I don't think so... we shall see I suppose!

At this point in time, when I feel anxious and stressed and pressure, I try to remind myself that my kiddos are ready. We have been working diligently all year long to get to this point. They are proud, they are confident, they are going to SHINE. 

When it does come to preparing my kiddos for the formatting and style of the test, I found this gold mine blog post A Great Big Collection of Test Prep by Teaching with a Mountain View. We incorporated SO MANY of these activities these past couple weeks: Stinky Feet, collaborative STAAR prep activities for points, etc. 

One of my favorite things we did today were the acrostic poems where students used their names to describe test taking skills. 

Here are some precious examples:

After dismissal, we teachers secured some sidewalk chalk and wrote inspiring messages for when the kiddos enter the building tomorrow morning, starting off their days on a positive note. I am so excited for them to see it! 

For now, I'll go and reread my STAAR administrator manual one last time to ensure I'm ready to rock it tomorrow. My kiddos are ready to rock it.


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