I have been teaching fourth grade language arts for the past five years. It has been challenging, especially with the pressure that students will take a reading and writing Texas Essential of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS test at the beginning the second semester, which they are expected to pass not for promotional purposes, but so the school can reach an either recognized or exemplary status within the district.
Throughout the state of Texas, it is well known that the number of students that pass the fourth grade TAKS test takes a dip when compared to those of the third and fifth grade students. Until recently, third and fifth grade students had three opportunities to pass these tests while fourth grade only had one. This was due to the fact that third and fifth grade students needed to pass these tests in order to be promoted to the next grade level.
The first year I taught, I felt overwhelmed with everything I had to do. There were lesson plans, reports, teaching, tutoring, Saturday school, and the looming reminder of the upcoming tests.
My reading and writing periods consisted of much shared reading, some independent reading, and narrative writing as that is what fourth graders are expected to write.
Unfortunately, when I received my reading scores after my first year of teaching, six of my fourty-three students had not passed. Not only were these results embarrassing, they were saddening, and discouraging. The first thought in my mind was that I had failed these six students.
The next school year was a little better. Each year after that, I hoped I could receive the results and rejoice with the news that all of my students had passed. Unfortunately this has not been the case.
Although I haven’t had as many students fail the reading test as I did my first year teaching, there have always been a few that have not passed, and as I do year after year, I talk to each one of my students outside the door of my classroom and I tell them the news. The words “You didn’t pass…” are so difficult to utter to a child that is looking at me with hopeful, expectant eyes. No matter how many times I rehearse what I will say, no words can explain the feeling I get when tears fill their eyes. I can only imagine how they feel or what they think, and I wonder if they believe I failed them, because that is exactly what I was thinking.
This past school year has been different. I began taking my Master’s in reading, and my eyes have opened up to see that although the TAKS test is an important part of my students’ lives, there are other much more important aspects of learning that should be celebrated throughout the year.
This year, my students developed a portfolio where they kept teacher and student chosen assignments. I began reading aloud to my students almost every single day. I gave them opportunities to respond to literature in a variety of ways, they helped me choose books and topics that I incorporated into the curriculum, and we had many discussions.
Using the portfolios, classroom and small group discussion notes, student writing, classroom assignments and many other happenings throughout the year, I was able to see growth in each one of my students.
Out of my fourty-two students, three did not pass the reading test this year, and although I still felt sadness and failure, I had proof of progression and success for them to see when I gave them the news that they had not passed. Hopefully this gave them a sense of success under the circumstances.
Every year, I will continue to strive so that all of my students will be successful on the TAKS test. Hopefully, I will be able to say that all of my students passed at the end of next year. Nonetheless, my focus will be on making sure my students show improvement and are successful throughout the year, and that they are aware of it.