Teaching & Learning in the MAP/PARCC/CCSS Era

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Many schools are MAP testing this week, or sometime around now. Our Lakeview students did so this past week during my class time. MAP testing in the fall creates a baseline by which we measure the progress of students. A lot of useful info comes from it. But do MAP tests measure all learning? Are they more suitable for one  type of Learning Style? And, even worse, do students feel pressure in the environment of test. As my son Mason has taught me, undoubtedly, yes.

Mason’s first MAP test of the year was last Friday. He was unable to answer a question, and he couldn’t skip it, so he broke down and cried. He was unable to complete the assessment due to his anxiety. Oh, Mason – he’s 5. Kindergarten MAP testing. While my initial response is to detest standardized testing and decry what it’s doing to kids, I have to put cynicism aside. What am I going to do, not MAP test? A one-man boycott should be effective. Besides, articles like this help put into perspective what’s happening, and what our role as teachers and parents are in this process.

We’re living in the age of MAP tests (and the like). Our job as teachers isn’t to complain. Sure, we can try to change it, long term. But in the short term, our responsibilities as teachers and parents lies in making sure we get them the learning they need. I need Mason to understand tests are just that – a periodic snapshot of what he knows. As a teacher, I need to create an environment that fosters these  learning in a way that standardized testing cannot. Because of the Common Core curriculum and its how it tests, sometimes ELA and Math cannot. This is where Social Studies comes in.

Ah, Social Studies. The last bastion of free teaching, or a severely neglected facet of our curriculum? Both, perhaps. But where Social Studies is shortchanged, it’s also given room to breathe. Because there are not tests here, we can create a learning environment that’s project-based, led by inquiry, and built around students and their learning styles. Not that my wonderful colleagues down the hall don’t do that. But these anxiety-inducing tests and standards do the same thing to them as they do to my son (and many other students).

We – parents and teachers – can complain about tests and CCSS all day. But in the meantime, my responsibility to to make sure what’s not measured is still taught. To maintain the art of teaching in an age of quantified, scientifically researched and measured learning. Instead of complaining, we need to take the opportunity to fill a vacancy. Projects, novels, exploration, discovery, and critical thinking are becoming the foundation of this classroom. This happens at home, too, Ask a Kindergarten teacher, like my sister. It’s not nearly as “fun” as it used to be – she’s now in the business of making test takers.

Which brings me back to being a teacher and parent… I have the pleasure of seeing both sides of this evolution of teaching and learning. At home, I make sure he knows learning is fun. At school, I help my students find some fun in what they do. Who says we shouldn’t be enjoying what we do?

Experiences like Mason’s remind me that, even though MAP testing is both important and stressful, it is here to stay. As a dad and as an educator, though, I’ve got a responsibility to make sure students are not defined or limited by these though. In the era of teaching and learning, we need to be creative and maintain a level of thought which cannot be tested, a level of curiosity that drives critical thinking, and foster their desire to want to learn. photo

Last weekend, Mason refused to go to bed until he wrote his numbers out until 100. I didn’t make him – he wanted to. Weird, but whatever… he was doing something he enjoyed and had fun. As a dad, I think it’s cool. As a teacher, it’s motivation to make sure I keep kids doing this. Learning shouldn’t be confined or defined by that MAP test, no matter how invasive it is to our teaching and learning. How can we keep kids curious and imaginative in this culture? It’s up to teachers and parents to find the answers for all of these kids while politicians look at the data!

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