Tests Tests and…Real Reading Too?

This semester, students in READ 6329.10 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

by Gabriel J. Garza

At this point in the semester my veins are tightening. My eyes are overwhelmed by bar graphs, charts, lists and pies of data that pile up and make me queasy. A giant snowball has formed above TEA hill and my name is etched in it, I know it. Worst of all, we’re still months away from state accountability, yet the sense of urgency is enough to make a veteran teacher cringe. Next thing you know we start reaching for practice assessments and standardized item practice, trying to connect the tests to the literary concepts we want students to know, most of us clueless about the stark differences between standardized tests and real reading, and how both can be achieved amidst the storm.

The need for kids to perform is a given, I understand. The need for kids to have real authentic reading experiences should be a given too, but in many schools the need for improved test performance outweighs the former. Why is this? Simple. Good scores equate money. On the flipside of this increased focus on standardized testing, good scores do not necessarily equate personal growth as a reader, nor can standardized tests sufficiently assess a student’s breadth of knowledge, or experiences with various works of literature. But shouldn’t we focus on getting them ready for the test since that is what determines success in the end? My answer to this would be yes. However, there should be a time to teach test preparation, apart from regular instruction.

Since standardized tests are in very different formats compared to real literature, they must be taught as a separate form. The purpose for reading differs as well—the sole purpose of reading a standardized reading exam is to select the correct answers in a given amount of time using a set of non-related, non-student-selected passages. Couldn’t get more inauthentic than that. Real reading is just the opposite. Despite the sad truth of what we are giving our students as an ultimate form of assessment, there are ways to strategize around these tests so kids can perform well, so they can return to real reading afterward. Kids can be taught to preview the questions first, to know the clues in the questions before reading the selection, for example. Teachers can employ these and other kinds of strategies once a week or until students are better able to master the genre of standardized tests. Then, real reading can continue—making connections with various texts, creating projects with peers, performing parts of stories to show understanding, for example.

I make sure that my students are aware of the differences between real reading and test reading. They understand, and now so do I, that knowing how to master the test form is essential, if that is what the current context of assessment demands. Meanwhile, real reading must continue.

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