Enabling students to score well on high-stakes, year-end test is a daunting task, no doubt about it. Here are the top reasons why many of your own kids won’t pass this school year.
Warning: I’m not pulling any punches here! Agree or disagree, but here’s what I see over and over again in my work with teachers.
1. You have an anti-testing attitude
Teacher attitudes influence student attitudes in everything…including the amount of effort they are willing to put into scoring well on tests. “But,” you say, “I have a philosophical disagreement with testing!” That’s fine, but if testing is the law of the land in your state, then the only appropriate approach is this:
Teachers should express their anti-testing viewpoint only where it will actually have some effect, such as to a union rep or to their district administration. They can even express it on their personal social media, blogs or other online activities. Just never to the children inside their school, and not to their children’s parents, either.
Public negativity inside your school building might make you feel better for a bit, but it will not reduce the amount of tests your students take. It will just poison the well that the students and other staff are drinking from.
2. You shortchange math instruction because you don’t like it as much as reading
I love math. It’s my thing. I love the logic and progression of it and I love seeing kids “get” that logic. I took extra math courses in high school and I took super-fun calculus courses in college for elective credits. So my math-itude is pretty darn good.
But I fully understand that makes me a bit of an outsider in elementary-teacher-land. There are others like me. But not many.
It’s very common to hear adults say, “I’m not a math person.” Well, that stems from their experience in school. There's no research that supports the notion that some people are naturally oriented toward math or reading.
No matter how a teacher feels about math, students deserve to be “math people” just as much as they deserve to be “reading people.”
3. You are not an expert on the standards you are responsible for
It’s time to ask a personal question. You don’t have to share your answer with anyone, but you need to answer. Here’s the question:
“Do you truly understand every math and reading standard that you teach? Well enough to explain them all to another adult using examples?”
I suspect that the honest answer for some is, “No, not really.” And that answer may be even more applicable to math than reading. I get it. Standards can be confusing. I mean, sometimes it feels like a teacher needs a math minor to understand a standard like this:
Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation.
I’m certain that non-Common Core state standards can be just as challenging to understand.
Well, we have to fix that, don’t we? It’s pretty common sense that if a teacher doesn’t deeply understand what she is teaching, the results will be sub-optimal (to put it nicely). If a teacher is having difficulty understanding a standard, then think how much harder it will be for her students!
The only person who can give the children a fighting chance at mastery – and at passing year-end test questions – is you. I provide the steps to increasing your mastery of standards here.
4. You don’t get around to teaching all units before the year-end test
Here’s a teaching truism:
“If you don’t teach it, they can’t answer a test question about it.”
Of course, how you teach it matters for student mastery, but if the kids have never even heard of dependent and independent variables, all of the questions related to it will be answered incorrectly. It’s as simple as that.
I’m constantly amazed when teachers – and often entire districts – intentionally schedule their curriculum so that students are guaranteed to fail certain questions on year-end tests. It’s like they want to hurt student scores!
This particularly affects the linear/sequential subject of math, which is difficult for teachers to teach to begin with. But I’ve seen district yearlong plans that:
A. Teach critical units after the testing window, and…
B. Leave no time for comprehensive review before testing
And these plans are published at the beginning of the year! Again: it’s like they have a long-range plan to fail students.
(I’ve been on curriculum adoption committees and seen the same thing from national, well-respected publishers. It’s inexcusable.)
5. Your reading lessons are not rigorous enough
Math is linear, concepts building on concepts, so it’s easier to slice and dice and make decisions about what to focus on. Reading, as any elementary teacher knows, is more of a puzzle of interlocking pieces.
But there is a big issue with how reading is approached when it comes to mastery. Let’s do a brief study in one of my favorite genres: mystery.
An elementary school mystery
As a general statement, elementary teachers much prefer to teach reading over math. In most classrooms, reading is granted more instructional minutes and reading skills are practiced in social studies, writing and even science.
So if teachers love to teach reading, and kids are getting oodles of reading time during the school day, that leaves us with a huge mystery:
“Why are students’ reading scores so low?”
Something is wrong with this picture. What’s wrong is the lack of rigor in most reading instruction.
There will come a day in each person’s life (hopefully!) when she finds nearly all reading to be easy. So easy that she only has to re-read and dig for meaning when she is deciphering a college economics textbook, or maybe the installation instructions for a new dishwasher. All the rest of the time, she will be reading for fun.
But the day of “nearly all reading being easy” should not happen in elementary school. If it does, we are not helping our students master a critical life skill…and we’re setting up high school teachers to shake their heads in dismay that they have to focus on decoding when they should be teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
If this doesn’t happen in your room, when will it happen? A solid foundation in reading is the job of elementary teachers, and it must start in Kindergarten.
Learning to read at the level required to pass year-end reading tests is truly hard work. It’s not our jobs to make reading easier for kids. It’s our job help kids become confident readers no matter how difficult the texts are. That’s so important, I’m going to say it again:
School is about more than teaching kids to be smart – it’s about enabling kids to feel smart, too. No child truly feels smart if something is easy to figure out; they feel smart if it’s hard but they do it anyway. And every single child deserves a chance to do their best on a difficult test and feel the warm glow of smartness.
Agree or disagree?
Let me know in the comments. And be sure to read my other article, 5 MORE Reasons Why Your Students Won’t Pass the Year-End Test.
If you want in-depth information on how to raise your test scores for every student every year, my book is the place to start.