Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let's Be Clear

Last time I was at the chiropractor, the receptionist gave me a preliminary screening before leading me into the exam room. After lying down on a table, she punched a few things into a laptop, then held a device to various places on my body and asked me to provide resistance. It took less than two minutes, after which she led me to the small room to wait for the doctor. After he bent, folded and manipulated me into alignment, he looked at the printout from the previously mentioned procedure and said, "Wow, you are weak! These numbers are really low."

I was dumbstruck and embarrassed, too stunned to defend myself. Here's what raced through my head as I walked mutely from the room. "I didn't know it was a strength test....had I known it was a strength test, I would have pushed a lot harder, but of course it was a strength test...what else would it have been...I certainly should have inferred that, but I didn't....and why didn't she tell me what she was measuring...." The silent diatribe continued all the way home, and to be honest, I have been mad ever since. Looking back, the purpose seems obvious, but had she said, "Push as hard as you can," I'm sure the results would have been considerably more favorable.

This frustrating experience led me to wonder if I have ever been guilty of assuming that my students know what I am measuring on various assessments. If it's a reading test, do I assume, perhaps incorrectly, they will read the passage the best they can? I decided to be explicitly clear when we encountered various end of year tests. For instance, our district requires we submit correct words per minute rates on a grade level text. When my darling little readers stop to read a picture, look up to chat about a connection they just made, or pause to remark in any way about the text, their rate decreases and it makes it look (according to this measure) like they are not proficient readers. So this year, as they sat down, I was very clear. "Patsy, on this reading test, I really want to see how smoothly and fluently you are reading. So I want you to do your best to keep going. We won't stop to talk about it until the end. Ok? Do your best."

The set up was brief. Most of my kids performed exactly as I anticipated, but a few surprised me with their achievement. I can't help but wonder if it's because the purpose of the test and their role in it were clearly articulated. I might get a chance to redeem myself next time I go to the chiropractor, but our students don't get a chance to retake district and state assessments. If we want to be assured that they are truly giving us all they can, let's be clear about what we are measuring and how they can best succeed. They deserve it.

cross posted at http://www.thedailycafe.com