Monday, March 8, 2010

The Kids Really Do Care

Tomorrow, we begin week number two of CAPT exams. This is the high stakes test that is administered in the state of Connecticut to all public school sophomores. And some juniors. And if seniors haven’t yet earned a score of “proficient” some alternative plan is made for that section of the test. The bottom line is this: although the CAPT scores are sent home, the score does not appear on the report card; it isn’t a part of the transcript; wolves do not eat your toes if you don't "pass" and the state lottery commission does not bestow millions upon you, your family, and friends if you do well. Yet they still care. The kids really do care.

Our students want to do well. They know that they have to pass eventually, but even moreso they know that it makes the school look good when they meet the benchmarks. Plus, there's the obvious idea that nobody likes to feel stupid. And so, they bow their heads down before the testing gods, long locks of hair tickling the test booklet and the answer booklet, the test booklet and the answer booklet as their eyes move back and forth, scanning questions and logging in answers. Last week it was two sections of writing and one response to literature. This week, it is two sections of math and one of science. Oh joy. But they keep fighting the good fight. They show up at school, which is an effort not to be underappreciated as many teachers and administrators will tell you.

My room is the room for extended time test takers. I proctor for the special education students, as well as the 504 and ELL kids. Most of them are boys and interestingly enough, a lot of them are lefties. Our president is a lefty. My son is a lefty. I don’t mention these things, though, because they aren't relevant enough. What is relevant is anything that will calm them down. I do not stress out as these kids are stressed enough on their own. The best thing a teacher can do for his or her students is to set them at ease. Call me crazy, but I give candy to my kids. All of my kids. Even those with ADHD. Think of it as the medicinal benefits of Jolly Ranchers and Starbursts! Maybe it’s the pharmaceutical theory behind Ritalin, Concerta, and all the rest that by hyping them up, they become hyperfocused. I am constantly making it up as I go along.

For example, I’ve been known to give out CAPT nicknames. Simply switch the first letter of the student’s first name with the first letter of their last name. Wah lah! Like that, I become Handy Rowe and like that, they forget about their anxiety, smile a little, and then listen respectfully as I remind them, yet again, how to bubble-in in precise fashion with a No. 2 pencil! The school year is a marathon and exam periods are like sprints. Actually, a better metaphor would be a horse race with the teacher as the jockey and these poor kids as the collective horse. Flip those letters and make it a fun way to welcome them back into that same old room for yet another day of testing. A little madness mixed in with a little methodology will go a long way!

As teachers, one of our challenges is to help those in our charge to put their best foot forward. Even when teachers are being evaluated based on test scores, they will do well to remember that the kids already care as much as they can. If we’re going to get them all to the finish line, we must forgo the whip for the sugar cube.

For teachers:
http://www.ericdigests.org/2005-2/anxiety.html
For kids: http://kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/school/test_anxiety.html#
For parents: http://parentingteens.about.com/cs/education/a/test_anxiety.htm

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