This evening my 7 year old, (that’s a picture of him as a cool Hammerhead card shark), performed in the school first grade play called “Go Fish!” The story was about inclusion: A Tiger Shark wants to be friends with a 7 legged octopus, a clown fish who isn’t funny, a star fish who can’t carry a tune, and so on. They are all afraid of the shark at first, and then they think he’s crazy for wanting to be friends with a bunch of imperfect sea creatures. In the end, he eats them – just kidding! No, of course, they all come to appreciate one another and recognize that it takes all kinds to make the ocean / world a beautiful place. The interesting thing about this is my 7 year old did not get the message at all despite having rehearsed the show for weeks. He just thought it was about a tiger shark who wanted friends. He didn’t get that all of the creatures were feeling worried about being judged because they were different than their species. He didn’t get the point that it was about the world needing all types to be beautiful. He understood it very literally. “They were just fish, Mom!” So I wonder if this sort of play with a good message is so the parents will be happy, or if the introduction to these metaphors and concepts will sink in over time? Either way he had a great time performing and was dedicated to practicing and preparing for it. (It even inspired him to check out a book about sharks at the library).
I am going to discuss inclusion of students with special needs even though inclusion to me means including everyone regardless of gender, race, citizenship, sexual orientation, religion, etc. I grew up regularly visiting my uncle with cerebral palsy who lived with my grandmother, (his mother). My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher prior to having her own children, and she fought to have disabled children, including my uncle, accepted into the Tulsa Public Schools 60 – 70 years ago. Because it is one of those things I have known all of my life, I never thought to find out more of that amazing story. (Unfortunately, my grandmother and uncle are both dead now, but this feat of my grandmother’s is something I would like to research).
In my future classroom I hope I am especially sensitive and adept at making any students with disabilities part of our community. Katie Kissinger writes about the responsibility of the teacher to be a role model to students showing them how to connect with special needs students even if the teacher has to dig deep to get over some of her own fears and ignorance. Since I certainly am not familiar with all disabilities, I will have to educate myself and conquer any fears. From my very limited observation, teachers too often let the para-educator take care of the special needs student and do not involve that student in the whole classroom community as much as every other student is included. My classmates and I discussed how this almost pretending the child is not in the room or is just like all of the other students is similar to how another author described many well-meaning people as being “color-blind” to race. Children notice and are curious, so the teacher must notice and satiate curiosity. It is important to do so not in a “freak-show” kind of way, but in a way that lets the student with special needs know he or she is valued and everyone wants to get to know him or her. The goal is to get to know and include the special needs student. Educating the teacher and the other students just happens to be part of that process, not the end goal. The special needs student has not been included in the class just as an educational tool to teach the other students to “be nice.” He or she has been included, because he or she deserves an education and friends and a community just like all of the other children.
One to two hour standardized tests were something I remember taking once a year for math and reading, actually I think they were not even given EVERY year – just every two or three. Because a couple of hours every couple of years did not take away from my education so much, I never really understood what all of the hoopla about standardized testing was until my own children entered school. Last year my kindergartener took the MAP test and a Northwest something or other. This year my fifth grader has already taken MAP, STAR, and MSP tests. When we lived in California, she took MAP tests three times a year starting in first grade and the STAR test once a year starting in second grade. I recently learned the MSP can sometimes take the entire school day! I had no idea! My daughter is a really good student and writer, and she told me the fourth grade writing MSP took her almost the entire school day. This year many of her peers took almost the whole day on the fifth grade science MSP. Now, I am rethinking these tests!!! This seems really extreme, and she is a top student in a high performing school, so I cannot imagine what students are experiencing to whom academics do not come so easily.
So, what is the solution? Different shorter tests? Terry Meier states in the article “Why Standardized Tests Are Bad?” that “any knowledge worth having is inextricably linked to culture and context – and thus can’t be reduced to measurement on a standardized test.” (ROC, Vol.1 p. 204) She also points out that the content of questions is not necessarily “relatable cross culturally,” and that “test items are deliberately selected so as to maximize differences between high and low scorers. By design only some people will do well on the tests.” (p.204) Shouldn’t it be possible for ALL children, regardless of their cultural background, to succeed on these tests? I thought that was our country’s goal.
Is it important to be able to compare students across cities, states, and the nation? How do teachers use test scores to help their students’ improve? Do they get to see the questions the student missed? I do not think the students ever get to see what they missed. How can everyone learn from their mistakes and improve? There has to be a way for teachers to assess their students, and there should be away for students to assess themselves as well, but it does not seem like students and teachers are making more progress as a result of standardized testing. In “Basketball and Portfolios” Linda Christensen states, “I am not interested in reducing my students to a single digit. I am concerned about their growth in writing and thinking.” (ROC, Vol.2, p. 208) She teaches her students to self-assess which “provides a space for student and teacher to reflect on change and growth . . . as well as pointing out a trajectory for future work.” (p.208) Another educator, Bob Peterson uses a “structured project approach” with a core set of requirements and options for additional work. (ROC, Vol.2, p. 214) “When parents . . . and community leaders see the concrete work of students at exhibitions, people don’t feel as compelled to support test-based ‘accountability’ schemes.”
I have a lot of questions surrounding this issue and am interested to see what I think when I become a teacher. For now, I am open to finding new ways of assessing students!