Oy! I'll be semi-happier after the April 25 week when our math TAKS tests are over. For the last forever amount of weeks, I've been tutoring 3 sets of kids, once a week, during advisory, strictly for this test. And last Friday some words came out of my mouth to my group of tutees that now have me thinking.
I didn't want them to think they were just in there because we thought they'd have a high chance of failing. That's definitely not the case. And, I guess I'm a product of the "feel good about yourself" school of growing up .... though from what-all I'm reading, I have to think about how I offer THOSE words of praise. So after we went over some material, I said something to the effect of, "okay! we're going for commended!" and I went on with going over problems.
Well, a 10th grader in that group came up to me afterward. She's a diligent, hard-working, come-in-for-tutoring if she thinks she needs it kind of math student. It does not come easily to her at ALL, and I had her last year for algebra and this year for geometry, and I've seen a great improvement in her algebra skills this year after her having time to absorb it.
Anyway, she came up to me and said, I'm really discouraged about this math TAKS. I haven't been commended on the math portion since the 5th grade. She's passed every year, but here we are, a higher performing school, and the message we're encouraged to give is, "don't just PASS, go for commended!". So not getting commended is apparently the new failing for these students. Crap! It didn't occur to me until that moment how students may feel every year when, yes, they may pass, but, oh no, I've let down my teachers by not being commended.
I don't know how successfully, but I told her that one of the main reasons we've been saying that (in my opinion) is to get the kids to try and do their best, and I already see she puts out her effort on every question she goes through, and that's the type of diligence that's going to get her far in the world, not the "oh yay! I passed and got commended on a state test." ... It's even telling that she's stressing about the 10th grade TAKS, and it's not really as high stakes for the kids as the exit level in 11th grade.
Regardless, here's another bad side effect of these tests and what we may seem like we expect from the kids all in the name of some outside random measure of "are we doing our jobs as teachers" test.