My heart is breaking for my students. We received our FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores back today. In my self-contained class of thirteen third grade students with special needs, one student participated in the alternate assessment, two students passed the FCAT (yay!) and the other ten failed the FCAT reading portion.
My heart is breaking for them because they have worked so hard this year. My assistants and I spent the entire year talking to them about their:
- gains in our SuccessMaker Computer Lab
- successes in being able to take AR tests independently
- sight words they knew at the beginning of the year versus the number of sight words they know now
- gains in their oral reading fluency probes and how many words correct per minute they can read
- reading selection tests and how they have improved
- robust vocabulary grades and how they have improved
- ability to read by themselves for twenty minutes without any help
Tomorrow I have to sit down with ten students and tell them they failed. Six of those ten students now face a mandatory retention in third grade. (Of course I won't use the word failed, keep reading to see how I plan to explain this to the kids.) The other four who don't face mandatory retention had already been retained once and have intensive instruction in reading, so they meet the eligibility criteria to waive the mandatory retention and can move on to fourth grade.
This is such a frustration for me! All of my students have been through a comprehensive, individualized series of standardized assessments to show their academic levels and their processing strengths and challenges. Many of the students in my self-contained class are significantly below grade level norms. If they were not, they would probably not need my setting. Since I have a whole year of classroom data and a whole stack of individualized, standardized assessments that document their current levels of performance, why do we continue to force them to take grade level standardized tests?
I do not have a problem with FCAT. I think it gathers an important piece of information for us. And to be perfectly honest, if I had a choice, I would have recommended six of my students take the FCAT because these students were systematically moving through and showing success on below level third grade materials. I thought they deserved a shot at it (and of those six, two passed and the other four who failed, actually came pretty close to the cut score for passing. They might be able to pass the Stanford 10 when they get a chance at that next week.)
However, I do have a problem repetitively administering a test that continues to document failure rather than success. I had six other students who just do not yet have the skills to pass a third grade level skills test. I don't have the answer to this problem. If we never give them the opportunity to test in the actual testing situation, we seem to be tracking them for a special diploma.
How would they be able to pass the high school test if they never experience it in elementary or middle school? But, if all of a student's experiences with a test result in failure, how confident will s/he be going into the high school test? What are those failing experiences teaching? Are they really preparing a student to pass?
It just seems to me that we should be able to match the standardized testing environment, format and language to a test that is based on the skills a child was actually able to systematically learn and master throughout the year.
By this I mean, I wish my third graders who are reading at a mid-first grade reading level could take a standardized test that is off-level normed. I wish they could be assessed on the first grade reading skills. Over time, this would actually show their growth, rather than continue to show that they have failed a grade level test. I know, it's a big wish.
So now I'm gearing up for tomorrow. It's our Reading Celebration Day at school (how ironic!) and at one point during the day, I need to have individual conferences with all of my students to discuss their FCAT results.
My plan is to show them their developmental score and explain this to them.
- I'll remind them that tests give teachers more information about what we need to teach.
- I'll remind them that this was their first time taking FCAT and now next year we will really be able to see how their developmental score improves. Just like we saw how their SM score improved throughout the year and their mastered sight words improved throughout the year.
- I'll remind them how proud I am of their hard work and all of the goals they have mastered this year.
- I'll remind them that they are readers!
photo courtesy of MicroSoft Clip Art