today i broke a seven year old

I spent the entire day in the school’s media center testing reading comprehension.

This is an important, formative task that I do constantly, on-the-fly in my classroom.

But today I didn’t test my own kids. I tested first graders. And next week the first grade teachers will test my kids and the rest of the kindergarteners. Why? My guess is that the district, state and federal government do not trust us to test our own kids. We might cheat because our evaluations are tied to these scores.

I listened to kid after kid reading books. The iPad told me what level each one needed to start at. The teachers had no input into the process. Any child who read above “level E,” was then given a sheet of two comprehension questions – front and back. They had to go to a table in the center of the room and finish the story and write responses to the written comp questions.

Then they waited for me to finish whoever I was currently testing so they could come back, have their writing compared to the company’s rubric and then answer oral questions about the story.

Then there were the following paths. If you scored well, you got to start the above process all over with a higher level book and that continued until you hit a level where your score was some arbitrary median score. If you scored some arbitrary median score, the iPad would deem you finished and you could return to your classroom. If you scored poorly, you got to start the above process all over with a lower level book and that continued until you hit a level where your score was stable.

Some kids read 4 books. That means they had 4 writing tests, too.

First graders.

MANY of whom are ESL kids who only started learning English in school last year when we had them in kindergarten.

And the writing rubrics are brutal.

Some of the books have drawing tasks in place of a writing question. They have to draw a specified part of the story to prove they have understood what they read. And the rubric for the drawings is VERY specific.

Writing scores are 0, 1, 2, or 3. 2 and 3 are passing and 1 and 0 are an automatic failure and a bump to a lower level book.

And remember there are two writing questions for each book? The scores are NOT averaged. The lowest score is the final score. The LOWEST score!

Of course the kids don’t know this.

But they wonder and ask… Why did I have to read again and she got to go back to the room?

They worry about their level… I’m reading Level J in the computer lab. Are you sure this is a J book? My mom wants me only to read J books!

We can’t respond to anything, of course.

Oh and the kid I broke? She’s the sweetest, most kind, quiet, shy little angel, who reads beautifully. She was so excited as she picked out a particular book from her choices. She told me something that she wanted to learn about this book (I dare not reveal the book here). I told her that if she found that information, she could tell me when she came back after writing her answers.

She read this high level book with no errors. She was smiling confidently.

And then I sent her off to write. I had other kids writing and was swapping kids in and out of my space to read or answer orally or get scored. I kept glancing at the writing kids, but the admins were also watching the kids to be sure everyone was on task and not talking.

This little girl’s back was to me in the middle of the room and she seemed to be writing every time I looked at her. She was bent over the paper with her pencil in her hand.

Suddenly, as I was getting a new kid to read with, one of the other teachers who was testing said, “Is that your kid? You need to get her because she’s been crying.”

Been crying? Why didn’t someone tell me? And I SHOULD have checked on her earlier because she’d been writing a long time, but many others were, too, and I was constantly busy. And I thought the admins were on top of the kids in the middle. Justification. I SHOULD have checked.

She was not crying. She was weeping uncontrollably. I knelt down next to her and looked at her paper. One side was blank and the other side had a couple of sentences. I asked if the writing was too hard. She nodded yes.

I took her to my space and got her kleenex and told her it was okay and not to worry.

I asked an admin if I could delay her next book until tomorrow and was told that I could.

I went back to this little one to comfort her. Because I knew that she had a 0 on one side for the blank, I was going to push her back to the next lower level, and the current test would be meaningless, I felt confident that I could talk to her about the writing she had attempted.

First, I read her two sentences. They were a very good response to the prompt. She deserved a 3 for that side. And with her 0 on the other side… yes, she got that 0.

I complimented her writing and her well thought out answer. Then I said, tell me what was hard on the other side. She pointed to the first three words of the prompt and said, “I didn’t know these three words.”

Identify the text features…

Precious girl.

I pushed the paper aside and said, “Well, those are very complicated words. But what I want to know is… And I asked her the question that she had wondered about before she started to read.”

Some light came back into her eyes and she told me the answer right away. We then talked about the book and the wonders that she had discovered. She showed me the pictures and told me complicated facts. She fully understood everything she had read.

I said, “Do you want to read another book today or tomorrow.” And she said, “Today.”

So she did.

But all the bandaids I put on her heart during our conversation about that book will never fully repair the damage of those many minutes where she was convinced that she wasn’t a capable, strong reader.

At the end of the day, a wise teacher said to me, “What did we learn from these tests that we didn’t already know?”

I learned that one can break a spirit all too easily.

The cost of these tests is too high.

But I already knew those things.


2 Comments on “today i broke a seven year old”

  1. Sherri says:

    I found your blog on Edubloggers, the title attracted me first, Secretly Rebellious, reminds me of myself, though I’m a parent, of an 8 year old. As a parent, you are the type of teacher I hope my boy has, but I’m pretty sure that his teacher is not very much like you, his 1st grade teacher wasn’t either, maybe his kindergarten teacher was. You write about children and how this mess effects them, which is what I want to know. I understand that teachers are under tremendous pressure, as well, but few talk about what kids are going through. I wanted to thank you!

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