Again the Struggle with The Bubble: Creating Our Own “Box”

My goal to post more is elusive. I have spent a lot of time this month grappling with assessment and documentation.  I am again struggling with how to properly evaluate and record the learning going on in my classroom. I don’t know know about you, but there is a lot of unrest out there on where we are going next with assessment and the common core standards.

Our district is currently in a state of flux, we are trying lots and lots of new things in search of what is best for our kids. You would think this out of the box kid would be thrilled that the world is wide open, and right now everything is one big experiment, trial and error, Explore… but surprisingly, I am trying to create some kind of box.

On the one hand, there is talk of rigor, high standards, pushing students to make, create, invent and try new things. I am all for that. We have more freedom than ever on what and how we are going to teach… for the moment. But then there is this other side, this assessment that looms as some big mystery, that my students will apparently be taking on line in a few months. I am told this is just a baseline year, the scores don’t count. There is worry that our technology won’t support the assessment, and that is a real concern for me. “Don’t worry I am told, we will get there. It is a process.”

Someone in the meeting said something like the following,

“It’s just data. No pressure, this is a baseline year.”

At this point I did have to take several deep breaths before I reminded those who do not teach real live students that it isn’t just data, it is students. It is looking at 33-35 bodies trying to make sense of their learning, and that these scores do matter. They matter to me as I am giving up what appears to be a huge window of instructional time to test these new assessments, and my students I hope will feel that these measures matter as we have taught them “the TEST” is one of three variables to move out of our English Learner program.

I say the word purpose over and over in my head during these meetings. And then, lately, I have begun to ask some questions out loud and the other day,  quite loudly.

Here are some of my thoughts my friends as we explore these new waters.

So at the end of the year my eighth graders will go to high school.” If they have not passed the CELDT test this year (our assessment for English Learners),  but did meet standards on the California English STAR test, how will they reclassify? ”

We don’t know yet. The new CELDT hasn’t been created, but don’t worry, it’s a process.

“My students passed the CELDT test this past year, but did not meet the standards for on the California English STAR test, how will they reclassify as we no longer give that test, and the new Smarter Balance test for this spring is a pilot?  Will we be able to petition in some way to reclassify these kids so they have more opportunities for options in their high school program?”

We don’t know yet, It’s a process.

“Can I create a digital portfolio of student work based on their reading and writing projects in class, and a paper portfolio to show growth this year? Would it be possible to use that in conversations about our kids who leave us in 6 months?”

Sure, but that isn’t standardized. We would like you to give some bubble tests so we can have some standardized scores.

So this past weekend I pulled together data:

Student papers and bubble assessments

Student papers and bubble assessments


student reflection journals

student reflection journals







Surprise surprise, the bubble test showed they could write. Three out of 4 classes passed the bubble test with a 80 percent or better average. Their real writing however gives more detailed information into the struggles they have applying the skills “they know” into academic practice. I know I am on to something when my students cheer to have a bubble test, because that is there comfort zone.

Back to the question of purpose. I continue to ask questions

“Here is my standardized data. Congratulations, they can bubble.  No, I’m not impressed with their scores.”

“Why am I giving the bubble test for a program we won’t be using in the future,  that is created in a format that doesn’t match the new assessment, and we don’t know what the new CELDT will look like?”

It is standardized and remember this is a process.

I go back to my word of the year PURPOSE, and I have decided it is time to document our learning in a new way, and remember “this is a process.”

So my friends, I am creating my own box. Here it is, and no it isn’t standardized, but it is replicable.

Each week we are gong to read and write and discuss ideas.  Every two weeks we will collect writing and look to see what we learned. We will keep them in real files and on digital spaces as technology and availability allows. We will evaluate our work based on rubrics for the project, and students will once a month write about what they have learned as a reader and a writer. It will take a tremendous amount of time, and energy on my part and theirs. We challenge those who believe it is “only data” to come and see what learning looks like. If only it was as easy as bubbles to create writers.

I no longer have time to partially teach a program that is not designed to meet the needs of my varied learners in our classroom. If you would like to give another standardized bubble test before our big Smarter Balanced Test this spring, please feel free to come by and we will discuss its value and purpose. Until then, we will be working on our own process. After over 25 years in the classroom, and working with these kids on a daily basis, I know that there is no other easy way to create readers and writers. I owe them more than a program assessment, I owe them the very best I have to offer, and so I do.

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