What those in charge (I lose track of who that even is anymore) will never realize is that the assessments that matter most to us as teachers, those can never be standardized. We can never standardize the most meaningful measures of growth because they tell us what really matters about the completely unstandardized humans that are entrusted to us each day and their growth in the completely unstandardized areas that really matter in turning these humans into better learners and better citizens of the world. These children who look to us to help them see the many ways that they are growing, these children are moving along an infinite number of uncharted paths as they grow and then struggle and then grow and then struggle, all the while keeping their eyes on what they will be able to accomplish next.
And those uncharted paths, we can’t turn those into the numbers or charts or pretty color coded graphs that people so desperately seem to want these days. We can’t take those personal successes and signs of growth and use them to tell you (whoever you are) who is succeeding and who is failing and who is good enough and who is not quite good enough according to your meaningless measures. It just doesn’t work that way. No matter how much money you want to spend trying to find a way to make it work that way.
Because, you see, what those in charge don’t know is that the assessments that matter most are the ones that are scrawled across whatever scraps of paper we can manage to find when we notice several kids struggling with the same concepts so that we remember to pull them into a small group later that day.
The assessments that matter most are the quick charts we create during writing workshop when we noticed that some of the kids are happily writing while others seem to be doing anything but and we want to make sure we remember who needs more support finding a way into his or her writerly life.
The assessments that matter most are the quotes that we overhear that we tuck instantly away in our hearts because they show us the first glimmer of a student becoming a writer who never thought he was one before.
The assessments that matter most are the notes we take in our binders when we speak one-on-one in a reading conference and we find the gold in what our children are saying that shows us just how much they really hear us even when we think they don’t.
The assessments that matter most are the ones that our children themselves are a part of creating because the act of creating an assessment alone shows us that even if a student isn’t able to do all that it takes to craft a powerful piece of writing, he very well may know what a powerful piece of writing is SUPPOSED to contain and once he has written that down, he is much more likely to keep working towards that.
The assessments that matter most are the conversations you have with a student who swears that he hates everything about reading and then finally shares with you that he enjoys reading books about sports players because now you know that you need to rush out and find high quality sports fiction and have it available for him in your classroom library so that he knows that he IS a reader and there IS a place for him here in our reading community.
The assessments that matter most are the moments that we notice and jot down on sticky-notes to share with parents when we see a child start to believe that she might be a reader and a writer who just didn’t know it yet.
The assessments that matter most are the comments we hear during classroom discussions that show us what we still need to teach our students the next day.
The assessments that matter most are the emails from a mother letting you know that for the first time ever, her child, who used to stare at the clock to wait out her assigned twenty minutes of nightly reading in past years, is up in her bedroom reading by choice and has asked her family not to bother her.
The assessments that matter most are the notifications waiting for you on a Sunday that tell you that you have students who have been writing blog posts at home over the weekend.
The assessments that matter most are the conversations that we overhear during group work that show us what our students are misunderstanding and what misconceptions we need to help them clear up.
The assessments that matter most are the ones that fill our binders and create the never ending stacks of sticky-notes we store on clipboards. They are the ones we hold in our hearts and in our guts and in the very fibers of what make us teachers.
But no one wants to see those. Those don’t seem to be very impressive to anybody. So we sit and wait for them to tell us what assessments might be better. We sit and wait for them to give us the “real” assessments that we give us “real” data that can be used to make “real” decisions about our students. We wait for them to hand us the next round of tests that promise to be so very useful for instruction.
And we hold our breath and hope that they won’t be too awful. We hold our breath and we cross our fingers that they won’t take up too much of our precious instructional time. We hope, with our whole hearts, that they won’t undo the work that we have done in order to make our students start to believe that they CAN be successful, that they CAN be readers, that they CAN be writers.
And then we do their assessments. And wait for the smoke to clear so that we can get back to teaching and back to the assessments and measures of growth that matter most.
Maybe one day. Someone will realize that all of this is somewhat meaningless. That no matter what test they give us next. No matter what assessments they tell us are going to finally fix all the ills of the education system. No matter what they promise us this new test will do for us and for our schools and for our students and even for the entire educational system at large. That none of that is really true. And then maybe. Just maybe. They’ll just let us teach. They’ll let us teach and learn alongside of our students. They’ll let us measure their growth and they’ll let us record where they struggle. And they will let us push where we need to push and celebrate where we need to celebrate and trust that we can figure all of that out without their fancy tests.