19 December 2013

Guest Post: Teacher Attitude Affects Learning and Testing

The following guest post is from Eileen Nagle, an extraordinary teacher that taught my son in 6th and 8th grades. Here she relates how teacher attitude and context can dramatically impact students' testing experience.

A professor I had in New Jersey taught us that if we taught above and beyond the state standards, played games during test week, and didn't make a big deal about the tests that our students would score high on the state testing. From my previous experiences I believe that testing results are very strongly determined by the teacher and the environment in which the test is given.

One year while teaching at an elementary charter school, I was the lead teacher of three grade level teachers. Jan (names are changed), who was in her 30s, had recently graduated from a local college. Next was Tammy who I had worked with the previous year, and then myself. I had received my certification only three years earlier but had homeschooled my own children for 17 years.

Jan wouldn’t do anything that she hadn't learned in college or that wasn't on the state standards. Being a charter school we had a more enriched curriculum than the local public schools, which is why the parents sent their children to our school, but she wouldn’t do it.  Her students would express that they ‘hated’ various parts of the curriculum, parroting their teacher. Tammy was in her 20s and was open to ideas and taught the extended curriculum. Because of Jan’s protests of not being able to handle them, Tammy and I each had a very high needs student in our classes, Tammy struggled each day with classroom management because of the challenges her student presented.

When state testing was coming up we met and I gave them some ideas on how to handle the week.  I told them to tell their students that the test wasn't any part of their grades and to just have fun with it. Jan was freaking out. With my students, I sent a note home asking for healthy snack donations to give to the students before and after tests. Parents were generous and many donations came in. I prepared an art project, a Mother’s Day gift, they could work on when they were finished with each testing section so they wouldn't sit and get bored.  We did fun games to loosen up muscles during the day.

Academically, I didn't do anything special to prepare them other than just teach as I always did. I believe an enriched curriculum taught in a fun way, with lots of music and role playing, will go far in preparing students for testing. They learn deduction skills, retain the information because it was fun, and do well on tests. I didn't do any 'test prep'.

At the end of test week my students wanted to know when it was supposed to get hard.  They thought it was a cake walk and requested another test week the following week.

Jan's experience was different. The first day of testing she came into my room in a panic saying two of her students had thrown up. Her hands were shaking as she described students saying they were scared and were crying. She was crying too saying the stress was too much. She wouldn't take any of my advice so there wasn't anything I could do about it.

The tests results came back and my class scores were the highest, Tammy had the middle level and Jan’s class scored the lowest of the three. There are many variables to testing, but students will perform better if teachers will:
  • Creatively teach to a much higher level than the state tests all year.
  • Don't teach to the test
  • Reduce any stress going into the tests.
If one must test these steps will certainly improve the experience and the outcome.

Eileen Nagle is the Outreach and Workshop Coordinator at the Noorda Theatre Center for Children and Youth, Utah Valley University. She can be reached on LinkedIn (Eileen Nagle) or Facebook (Noorda Center)


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