Sunday, November 02, 2008

Joy during state standardized testing?

As an educator in the public schools, it's my duty to help administer the mandated high stakes standardized tests, known in Wisconsin as the WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination). As a special education teacher, my duty involves giving the test to a small group of special ed students with testing modifications written into their Individual Education Plans. We won't even go into opinions on the value of these tests here. Let's just leave it that it's not anyone's favorite time of year, teachers or kids.

So why is the title of this blog post asking about joy during the testing period? I have three fifth grade boys who are taking the test with me, starting before our long weekend break and finishing up this coming week. It's long and grueling. They are in special education for a reason, and that makes such tasks even more grueling for them. Plus, they tend to finish up quickly, in spite of all those teacherly admonitions to "take your time and check over your answers." What to do when they're all done and can't go back to the classroom to join their classmates who actually [b]are[/b] taking their time? The answer to me was obvious....a story!

I started their testing sessions with a short tale to relax them and allow for some tension relief. If it had been up to them, we'd have skipped the paper and pencil stuff and just told stories. Since it was right before Halloween, we did the scary stuff. "Jack and the Haunted House" was a great hit. Images of the headless body breaking off a finger, lighting it and handing it to Jack to use as a torch are just the antidote to test anxiety, especially for 11 year old boys!

Of course, they still finished early. Time for the old campfire tale about the boy taking the short cut past the creepy old house, following the voice that called "Turn me over..." to discover a burnt burger on a grill. These boys can't [b]wait[/b] for their next testing session now! Oh, they could easily skip the test administration, as could I, but they know they'll have a personal storytelling session each session, and seem to think they're hot stuff to have been placed in my group.

I do think that given all the anecdotal reports, as well as some of the current brain research, on storytelling and its positive impact on learning, it would be interesting to do controlled studies to see if perhaps, a little bit of Jack before the WKCE has a positive effect on the all-powerful test scores. It certainly brings a little joy into an otherwise loathsome task.


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