Did They Write A Strong Ending?

The district writing assessment for 2nd graders was given last week. The kids had to write a personal narrative (small moment in Lucy Calkins speak). We had to give them a prompt that they were then to write about. The prompt was: Think of someone special in your life and think about something you did with them. Now write about it.

So the kids did just that! They thought of someone important or special to them, and something they did with (or near, or around; prepositions are less rigid when you are 7) that person. Fine.

You non-teachers out there might think we teachers then go over these essays and see where the kid has problems; do they remember to capitalize? Did they use quotation marks? Periods? You would be right, mostly.

We had to use a rubric to grade these things. The rubric covers mechanics/conventions and content. The only score my district wants recorded is the mechanics/conventions score. Content doesn't matter. It matters to me and to the kids, and probably to their parents, but the district poobahs couldn't care less. Personally I don't think either of the scores helps anybody do or know anything they didn't already. I know what my kids can and cannot do even without scoring each narrative on the 8-point, 2 column rubric.

The worst part of the assessment is the scoring. Teachers, arranged in grades they teach, read the narratives (all kids take it, even kindergarten) of another teacher's students in the same grade. They then give their 2 scores for the 2 categories on the rubric. Then a second teacher reads them and scores them. If the scores diverge (sound familiar regulars?) by more than 1 point, a third teacher reads it. If the scores still diverge, well, who the hell knows what to do then!?

So there we were, analyzing the narratives of 7 year-olds to see if they have a "strong closing" or "spell most irregular words correctly", as if it matters. THEY ARE SEVEN!

We spent 2 hours doing this, and I submit, based on my personal experience and the comments of my colleagues, that it was a complete waste of time. We are not evaluating dissertations here, we are looking at half-page little narratives written by second graders.

This is the problem with NCLB. The assessment assesses nothing I didn't already assess by being their teacher and teaching every day for almost 9 months. NCLB belittles this and assumes teachers don't know what to do, don't know what to look for in student work, don't know how to teach second graders to write "strong endings". Maybe they shouldn't?

Here is what kids need more than us poring over and analyzing their 6 sentences: They need opportunities to experience stuff. They need me to be able to be spontaneous, when interest and learning are primed. They need less instruction on punctuation and quotation marks, and more experience with language--like talking, asking questions, answering questions.

I can't tell you how horrible it is to watch these sweet little ones struggle with a writing assignment, only then to be given a 1/1 because they didn't use quotations marks and they wrote about their dog.

School must suck for the kids. I know it sucks for the teachers.

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