Working at a Montessori school is a unique opportunity. We aren't locked in to teach to tests, or compare students to one another. However, in my school, we are legally required to do state testing. Lots of teachers in my school dread this time of the year. Change your mindset and see it for what it can be, eye opening. Ultimately, you are preparing students to enter into the "real world," and someday maybe go to college. They will need to be successful to take a test, whether it's for college, their a license, etc. I do not condone teaching to the test, but I have seen several successful students in my Montessori classroom do well at the standardized tests because they can think critically.
In the state of Ohio, where I teach in, we are required to provide standardized tests. For first and second graders, the students take a reading diagnostic test (at their own level) to determine if they are on grade level or needing to be on a Reading Improvement Monitoring Plan (RIMP). Students that are in third grade and beyond take an Ohio Language Arts (fall and spring) and the Mathematics (spring) test. I have also had third graders that take an Ohio Alternate Assessment in Language Arts and Mathematics.
Not too much of my time goes into preparing students for the content of the tests specifically. By the time they have to take a state test (third grade), I feel confident they will either do well on the test or be on a RIMP already. Even though we do not formally teach to the test, the students will be learning the content and materials anyway. For instance, by third grade, most students are reading in small groups advanced books and discussing and writing about the content in great lengths. They are thinking critically about reading segments and being able to answer questions from what they read. When they look at the state test for the first time, it won't be too confusing to answer similar questions than they are used to. It might be a different format, but your students won't be limited to being successful at just one format because you would ultimately be using many formats in your teaching.
Assessments are great ways to help teachers improve their teaching! Use them, don't lose them because you don't agree with the test or if students should even be taking them. It is just another format or data to let you know about your students. You can figure out a lot from how they take tests, by just observing them through the process and their data. For instance, I can tell if a student has the ability to focus for long periods of time, retain information, "guess" when they are not sure, "figure things out" on their own, or ask a teachers assistance for reassurance. I can tell if students need help taking their time, eliminating answers they know are not true, and strategies to help them figure it out when they are unsure. Then, once I have the data I can analyze where I or someone on my team has missed out on.
Before we take the test, I do not tell students, "don't worry about this, it doesn't matter." If I were to say that, I would be setting them up to fail, confusing them about why we're taking it in the first place then, and not giving them the best chance for themselves. Instead, I tell students, "we're going to be doing an exercise on our brains, just like we do at school every single day. This time, this exercise might look a little different and there are certain rules that we have to follow." I answer any questions the students have about who wrote this exercise, or why we're doing it. I tell them, "we're doing this because it's just one way to see how your brain works." I don't put high pressure on them, nor bribe them to do well with candy or a party after we're done. I test in very small groups, five students maximum, so everyone feels comfortable and not competitive.
Speaking with families before and after our testing week is important. Beforehand, I want families to know, especially if they aren't fluent in the Montessori philosophy, how our school treats test differently than others. I don't want their families to hound their child to "do well or else" on the test, so giving them this information ahead of time is crucial! Families need to know that the results of this test does not change our outlook on their child, nor influence our decision for moving or staying in or out of our classroom.
After the test, I meet with families whose children might not have done well on the test. It's important for me to know that their child is still valuable and we can discuss why they might not have done well. Some have never seen a formal test before and some might have rushed. Luckily, I keep observation notes to help me discuss the child's results.
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