February 18, 2012

One Obstacle Down

Last week was a big week on campus, as the 8th graders took their state writing exams. I bumped into a 7th grade reading teacher in the office, and she told me that one of our 8th grades said that she could now check that off her 8th grade checklist. That's right--it is a kind of rite of passage!

For years the 8th grade exam was a narrative or descriptive writing that students had two English class periods to complete. Last year, we were all thrown into chaos it was changed to resemble the high school exam, which is two prompts to be written in one testing session--and one of the prompts would most assuredly be some type of expository writing. I nearly wore myself out trying to get students ready. The rest of the department joined in with focusing less on narrative and more on expository, along with increasing stamina. Two essays in one sitting is brutal!

This year, along with the Common Core hysteria, we 8th grade teachers found ourself slammed with yet another new format to the state writing exam: one "task" to be written online. To make matters worse, the state did not release any practice prompts or exemplars. In fact, this year is a pilot year for this test, and it does not count toward our AYP, but that is something that we do not mention to our students. Sure, it may not count on any official paper work, but there will still be plenty of people looking at our scores, so it's really business as usual as far as I'm concerned.

With a lack of direction from the state, except for character count (2,000 maximum), and potential modes of writing to be tested (narrative, expository, and argumentative), I did the opposite of worry. I just taught good writing the best way I know how. In fact, I didn't even worry about the exam until the few weeks before, particularly when I realized just how short 2,000 really is. My goodness, in this case, if I taught only to the test, my students would be horrible writers!

Most of the students appeared to do pretty well on the exam. Because it was done on the computer, I was more clearly able to see their writing as I was walking around monitoring the test. I hated that part! Anyway, I harped on a few points, and I observed most of them no making the critical errors I warned them about, so I am actually pretty anxious to get their scores back, which won't be for months, so see if they did as well as I think they did.

For now, it's back to teaching. Only now we have the state reading exam coming up, so it's time for me to abandon my regular teaching for teaching for the test. I can't wait finished with that next obstacle!