I’m worried that I’m becoming one of those teachers, the ones who think only about test questions and test scores. This year there’s a lot of emphasis in our building on data: benchmarks, proficiencies, ranges, goals, scores. Our building did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) last year in the special education subgroup, and that’s put a bit of a microscope on what we do with students. That alone is not a bad thing…it’s important to be a reflective teacher. But for me it’s made me think more about the end goal, which seems to be an increase in the number of students that score proficient on the MCAs. I’m starting to filter all my work with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students through that lens.
This afternoon as I was digging into the reading comprehension texts (again) and thinking about an individualized plan for one of my most struggling students, I kept thinking about what materials would most closely mimic what will be on the MCA reading test. I debated where to start with strategy instruction thinking only about the testing situation and the final score. Harvey and Goudis (Strategies That Work) emphasize that “school reading should more closely reflect the reading done outside of school” (p. 62). The authors argue that much of the reading we do as adults is short: magazine and newspaper articles, recipes, manuals or newsletters for work. Thus, using shorter texts in the school setting is just as important, if not more important, than using novels. And so I kept thinking, “what kind of short texts will show up on the MCAs?” and how can I teach so that my students perform well with those texts.
But then the hair twirling and stomach swirling started. Is it my job to make sure students score well on tests? Maybe. More and more that seems to be the case. But I think my job is to teach students to read, which of course means teaching them to understand what they read. And I want them to actually enjoy reading, so that reading brings them the same happiness outside of school that it has always offered me. Why would students want to read if all I’m preparing them for is test after test after test?
I want students to WANT to read. And instead of me figuring out what materials are going to give me the most bang for my testing buck, I think I should ask my students: what do you really want to read? That’s my starting point.