“It isn’t that I don’t like math. Learning takes time in math, and I don’t always get the time it takes to really understand it.”*

How many more of our students feel this way, but instead of telling us with words, they distract, joke, sleep, or skip class:

…Math is such an interesting subject that can be “explored” in so many different ways, however, in school here I don’t really get to learn it to a point where I say yeah this is what I know, I fully understand it. We move on from topic to topic so quickly that the process of me creating links is interrupted and I practice only for the test in order to get high grades.

Taking Time Learning Math:A Student’s Perspective by Evan Weinberg

Would I want to come to my class?
This question haunts me. What are my kids seeing, feeling, thinking? Why does this kid come, but stay totally uninvolved? Why does this child talk, constantly, but about anything but math? Where did curiosity go? Is my class a class I would look forward to?

My personal enjoyment of math comes from the struggle with ideas and the satisfaction I get from my connection of and understanding of the relationships among those ideas. It’s like a huge puzzle that will take the rest of my lifetime to fully understand. The student’s comments in Evan Weinberg’s post resonated with what I see happening with my students. They are not learning math so much as preparing for a test about math.

They are not learning math so much as preparing for a test about math. 

The current situation of ‘learn how to do this; learn how to do that’ mentality is slowwwwly changing over to ‘understand why this is so; why does this relationship work’ exploration. It will need a shift in how we teach, letting kids struggle and connect ideas (we must facilitate this exploration, but not down some tightly designed path), and changing our view of grades and mastery. I can’t say I don’t have the answer- I am working on an answer that works for me and for my students. And I’m sure I am not the only one teacher who has found the path that is taking them closer to the ideal.

This post grew out of my response to Evan’s column. His response,

“I completely agree that this is a shift, and it is ongoing. Clearly, despite the changes I’ve made to the way I teach, students still get the sense that the test is the important part, which means there is still a great deal of improvement yet to be made!”

*Taking Time Learning Math:A Student’s Perspective by Evan Weinberg

When testing becomes superfluous…

So my colleague was commenting about another teacher complaining that the test was all procedure and no processing…. 

Let me back up a little. Formative assessment is constant, very informal, and is, at its heaviest, a quiz. Summative assessment, on the other hand, is very formal, comes at specific breaks in the unit and at the end, and is administered to all classes in the same curriculum. Once the curriculum summative is created, it is provided to each teacher. In the above instance, the teachers was complaining to the curriculum chair about the current test.

My colleague felt this teacher should have known the purpose for the summative: our summatives were just testing practice for the course final. 

I admit I was caught off guard- I didn’t know this was the purpose of our summatives either!

The argument made to me was “we really shouldn’t need to “test” (summative with a capital S) children unless they were making up material or they were remediating…” Huh?

It got me thinking about the true purpose of testing. If we are truly teaching for understanding, then testing is really superfluous, isn’t it? They will use the knowledge regularly, without the need to answer poorly constructed, artificial situations that are designed to test what they don’t know, with trick answers that are designed with the errors that are “usually” made by “most” students. There is something stinky about assessments with test banks so protected that they are secured better than banks! 

So let’s talk about how we, as teachers, can make summative testing truly superfluous.