Saturday, February 7, 2015

Putting the *Ass* in Assessment

This is how I felt at school yesterday.  The last two weeks have brought snow measured by the foot.  We have had four snow days and two late starts in the last ten days of school.  Oh, and I fell on the ice, and had to take a day to get cleared to work.  Add it up and that gives me about four full school days to impart all my wisdom to the kinders in my classroom.

Those who teach might be familiar with the acronym, SLO.  It stands for Student Learning Objective.  In my district we all had to create a SLO with "rigor" that was measurable and included content and process standards. Yeah, it's a bit demanding.  I'll save my SLO opinions for another post titled "How Do You Measure 'Doesn't Spend Entire Day Crying Anymore'?"  But I digress.  It's that magical time of year where we do a mid-year assessment of student progress on the SLO.  Remember, I teach KINDERGARTEN.  Our assessments are oral and 1:1.  We wanted to keep the "rigor" rolling so we assessed five points of literacy.  I had finished most before the winter apocalypse began, but the Phonological Awareness piece still needed to be completed.  Of course, that was the most time intensive piece.  These were due the end of January, but, well, winter threw a monkey wrench in that plan.

Remember, I had four days to complete these assessments.  And teach math, writing, reading, science, and social skills.  You'll probably hear teachers bemoan how too many assessments take away from the time we have to TEACH what we should be assessing.  It's true.  I was grabbing kids during snack, as they walked through the door, when they were finished getting ready to go home. Yet I still had to steal from my instruction time to complete these assessments.  I do hold some culpability here.  I chose this SLO with my work wife.  We added the Phonological Awareness piece to our SLO to include "process" standards in kindergarten.  It has shed great insight into how my kids are learning to read, when matched with the other components of our SLO.  But the time!!!!

I started this post as a reflection of how my energy sets the tone for my students, but explaining the SLO  seems to have taken over.  It is important to assess the progress of students.  Lawmakers demand it to hold the '"lazy" teachers accountable.  Truth be told, I'd assess kids anyway.  That's how I know where to go next with my instruction.

My conflict is with who I become while assessing my little ones.  This mad rush to complete the assessing turned me into an ogre, and not the lovable Shrek type either.  I was harried and irritable.  I was expecting children who hadn't been able to play outside, due to the unsafe conditions, to be quiet while I gave all my attention to only one student.  The fun-loving, singing, dancing teacher was put in a closet while Ms. Trunchbull took over.  Then, with five minutes remaining in the day and three assessments left to complete, one of my favorite staff members walked through the door holding the hand of one of my former students.  He was in a fragile place and needed some of my attention. She came in looking for a little redirection from me, then saw my furrowed brow and focused expression and nodded with understanding as she walked one of my kids (once I teach you, you're always my kid) out the door.  Ripped. My. Heart. Out.

After my students were safely on the bus, I sought out the other staff member.  I had to make amends.  We talked about what the student had needed; she tried to assure me that it was okay.  But I'm not convinced.  One of "my kids" needed me.  I let an assessment trump him.  I'd like to tell you "never again,"  but I'm not sure I can.  SLO's, NWEA's, and now Smarter Balance for the older kids are here. My value as a teacher is tied to some of these assessments.  My school is judged by the growth children make.  This creates a real pressure and sense of urgency.  Hopefully, the next time a child needs me I'll at least have the presence of mind to say, "I see you.  You are important.  And even though I can't give you my time right now, you will have me as soon as I'm able."  I entered teaching to grow children, not build test scores.  This afternoon was a good reminder.