When I first started teaching thirty years ago, the state test was a pencil and paper bubble test. It was spread over a three day period, one hour at a time. The results came back a few weeks later and they were used to inform practice. If our students showed weakness on, say, “locating information,” we knew where we needed to beef up our instruction. I have no issue with testing students in such a way. These days, however, standardized testing seems to be cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic, punitive, and time-consuming.
Frankly, it’s absurd.
At my schools we’re trying to compensate by cramming in all the enjoyable and authentic learning experiences we can. Right now our students are deeply engaged in The Checkbook Project, my free financial literacy / behavioral management / practical math system. Students in our 4th and 5th grade classes have been managing their bank accounts since mid-February, renting or purchasing their desk space, applying for jobs, paying taxes, and buying stuff at auction. As we head into the final trimester, they’ll be starting businesses, buying stocks, and donating to actual charities. This program dominates their every moment in class. When they’re well into adulthood, they’ll reflect on “Checkbooks” as a significant piece of their elementary education.
Our Fact Car Rally Race math facts program is winding down. About a third of the students have either already crossed the finish line or are drawing near the checkered flag. Another third of the class is on pace to demonstrate mastery by year’s end. That leaves the remaining kids in need of tow trucks and roadside mechanics to help catch them up.
Of course, we’re also doing all the customary kinds of work: fractions, figures of speech, physical fitness—and writing. You know kids: they’ll limit their written responses to a single paragraph—or even a single sentence if they can get away with it. But that won’t do given the emphasis on writing multi-paragraph responses on that absurd state test mentioned earlier. So, we’re using my Perfect Paragraphs program to show kids how to expand single paragraphs into multi-paragraph essays. By teaching them how to use their “reason why” supporting sentences as topic sentences for the additional paragraphs, they’re better prepared for that darn test, and more importantly, their future school years.
Despite political controversy, we’re delving into slavery. I’m convinced the likes of Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Dred Scott should be and can be shared tactfully. Among other things, we’ll be reading my researched-based reader’s theater scripts about Box Brown and Juneteenth.
Speaking of theater, we’re preparing a full stage presentation of my play The Nose, replete with a giant papier-mâché nose costume. It’s based on Gogol’s classic short story of the same name and it’s full of mind-bending humor about bureaucratic absurdity. It’ll take a couple of months to put it all together, but it’ll make for a mind-bending conclusion to a yet another school year full of silliness and absurdity—all the stuff kids remember after all that standardized testing has been forgotten.
To check out any of my programs for use this year or next, visit my storefronts at TpT or Etsy. Be sure also to visit my school page, DailyPlatypus.org.