No time to teach today!
Friday we got the news that all of the DRA assessments were due. That they were actually “overdue,” but the powers that be down at DPS headquarters had granted an extension until Monday for turning scores in. A month ago I took all the various sets of scores on previous assessments into account (as directed) and learned that I had 16 students who had not performed in the “proficient” band when it came to reading and, therefore, that they needed to be assessed with the “DRA” instrument. I was further advised by an administrative person that each DRA test required about an hour, so from the beginning I was stumped as to how I would manage to find time to do this measurement of readers deemed to be “behind” their grade level. When a day was set aside a month ago to grade the first set of “benchmark tests,” I took my tests home and scored them so that I could free up that day for administering the DRAs. However, only 7 of the 16 students whose parents I wrote inviting them to bring their children in on this special “off” day responded.
So, come Friday afternoon, I realized that 9 tests were still outstanding and that I would simply have to cancel teaching Monday, or at least abandom my plans to engage the students in some kind of directed learning for the day. Which I did. Because it was the beginning of a two-day week that veers into a parent conference day and then lets out completely for Fall Break, already several children were absent. Two were suspended for fighting Friday, which further reduced the potential hazards of asking children to take care of themselves for the day. I explained my predicament at the beginning of the day this morning, wrote a list of suggestions on the easel for work they could pursue, and then I opened that DRA box full of papers and readers and tried valiantly to have a good attitude as I listened to struggling readers read aloud (a poor measure of anything) and answer silly questions about marginally interesting books. The last section was to measure “Metacognition,” i.e., how children thought about the text. Listed were about seven suggestions such as “I thought about similar experiences I’ve had,” “I asked questions,” “I wondered about the reasons for things,” or “I pictured what was happening.” The child was asked to pick one that characterized their thoughts during their silent reading and then to give two examples of how this thinking occurred. I won’t go into the shallow answers they concocted; for some it was so far-fetched I suggested they just skip the section.
But I calculated all the “words per minute” and the “number of miscues” and rated the depths of their understanding and gave it all numbers and put those numbers into categories that would label them somehow for the system. Will the system now send more money—or books—or personnel to help those many who are struggling to learn to read? No.
What exactly will they do with those numbers? Who will benefit from knowing how many children in my classroom are “reading below grade level?” Remember that we already knew who they were by looking at the last several assessments they took and failed to be proficient. What has been gained?
What was lost was a day of teaching and learning in my classroom. That’s just one teacher’s time to teach, but it’s 5 hours times 25 students in lost learning time.