Yesterday, on the last weekday of the February break, I was in my classroom reading a 25-page standardized, multiple-choice test on poetry. All 8th graders at my school will spend two hours taking this test on Tuesday. Its purpose? To help them do a better job on the MCAS!
After studying past MCAS tests at length, however, and now having read over this new test, I found that the content and terms of the two tests are dissimilar in many ways. It remains to be seen whether this test will be useful, or simply a baseline year in which we learn whether this standardized test company can measure poetry know-how as well as it has measured math skills in the past.
In addition to the lost instructional time on Tuesday, I will now spend Monday helping kids to prepare for this new test, reviewing terms (elegy, cinquain) that they have seen but probably did not memorize. Even then, this test expects them to decipher – with no help from the teacher – vocabulary terms and words such as “zephyr,” “realm,” “vesper,” “poesy,” “yore,” “fond conceit,” and (my favorite) “thou wert aye a masker.”
I worked hard to make poetry vibrant and engaging for the last month. I am afraid that students will now feel defeated and alienated by one test, even though we will tell them that this is not a high-stakes assessment. If they didn’t hate poetry before, this test may turn them in that direction.
So Hunter and Bosley’s proposal that we treat school children as creative beings who should learn how to think and solve problems and make connections across the curriculum comes as a welcome “zephyr” to me. In addition to helping students to become better thinkers, it may encourage teachers to stick with the profession and to look for opportunities to score creativity points for their schools.
Here’s an ironic note to end this post: Our principal (who, in her heart, I suspect is not a huge fan of standardized testing) has asked 8th grade teachers to organize a Medieval/ Renaissance Fair for our students, to take place in June. During MCAS testing week(s), when the students are pretty much fried after each day’s test session, teachers will turn to projects such as creating a suit of armor, writing “new” Canterbury Tales, and making “stained glass windows” illustrating visions of heaven and hell.
We get this chance to play, in part, because the kids will be so burned out that they wouldn’t do well if we pursued more “serious” lessons. It will also be too late to do the teaching to the test that no one wants to admit we are doing up until MCAS time. Creative lessons should not be a last resort, once-a-year opportunity. If you disagree with me, all I can say is thou art aye a masker!