For twenty-seven years now, I have given the state's test to middle school students. I remember that first year: I had a group of 6th graders. They weren't sure of what to expect on the test; honestly, the teachers weren't either! I just remember a little guy named Artie. He left the writing prompt blank...not a single word. It wasn't that Artie couldn't write; he just chose not to write. At the time, we shook our heads and said, "He is only hurting himself."
Fast forward to the present...
We now prepare students for what to expect on the test. Lessons are organized so that the students are exposed to the structure and vocabulary of the testing situation. We stress to them the importance of the test: take your time, do your best, answer all the questions, check your work. We want to see how well they can do, but it is only a glimpse of their knowledge. We really only learn what they know about certain questions on a certain day.
I watched my students today as I circled the room. Most of them were really putting a lot of effort into what they were doing. No one left the writing prompt blank. They truly are aware of the importance of doing their best. But it isn't just for themselves any more. People now look at their scores to determine my ability as a teacher. That is scary when I could easily have another "Artie" in my class. After all, they are still children. I have no idea if they were able to sleep last night or have breakfast this morning. Some of them enter my room each day with a weight upon their back that has nothing to do with school and learning.
But each day, I try to make a crevice in their lives and insert a bit of knowledge about reading and writing. I will do my best and continue to encourage them to do the same. Along with that, I will take time to talk to several of them throughout the day...to be a part of their life beyond the classroom. A past student wrote on the whiteboard outside my room, "U were the best." That tells me that I do impact the lives of my students beyond what a test can show. It is why I became a teacher. It is why I still teach.