Break a Cycle of Repeated Failure: Create the Perfect Day

When it comes to standardized testing, does it really matter if a student brings a jacket or a favorite pencil? If they test in the morning or afternoon? If they test on the computer or with paper and pencil?

Work of Tron Guignard -- I had the privilege of being Tron's 8th grade math teacher.  This is one of a couple of great comics Tron made for me and kindly gave me permission to use.

Work of Tron Guignard — I had the privilege of being Tron’s 8th grade math teacher. This is one of the great comics Tron made for me in 2007 and kindly gave me permission to use.

Backstory: A standardized Algebra test stands in between my students and high school graduation.  For many that test is a walk in the park, but for a few this test is a reoccurring nightmare.  I coach the latter group of kids in a shortened period designed to remedy any Algebra deficiency before the next retake. If only it were that simple, but frankly, actually knowing Algebra is only half the battle for these whom have repeatedly failed.  Around every quarter, I am assigned a new group of students whom have experienced repeated failure on this state Algebra assessment.

Bubba (name changed to protect the guilty) defied logic. According to all pretests, he should have passed the Algebra state test, yet here Bubba was in my mid-day remediation for retakers. After I had repeatedly looked for some deficiency and came up with none, Bubba finally complained to me, “They tested me in the morning. I’m never awake in the morning. I don’t warm-up until lunch.” Our awesome testing coordinator (You rock, Andi!) and I conferred. She arranged for an afternoon testing, and I made him swear that he would make the extra scheduling hassle worth it by passing. He passed.

Since then, we keep our ears open to the complaints or concerns of students caught in a cycle of failure. The conditions are different for each. This semester one student was convinced a Friday test in the morning would create his best day. For another an IEP accommodation of verbatim reading had to be by a human and not headphones. Does it really matter? Does testing on a certain day of the week really produce a better result than testing on a random day? For the repeat failer, the issue is not whether or not they actually need a certain condition. The issue is whether or not they believe a certain condition will make a difference. As mentioned in a previous post, my biggest hurdle is convincing retesters that they CAN pass the assessment. Let’s not underestimate the mind game. One darling student absolutely refused to test because he was convinced the computer monitor would give him a migraine. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” ― Henry Ford

If to break the cycle of repeated failure it takes testing on Friday, bringing hair ties, or providing a room fan, I’ll buy in. Bubba has taught me two things: (1) Keep an open ear to student’s passing complaints. (2) Never discredit the affect of the environment on poor testers.
Perhaps a perfect day is just the confidence builder that some students need to believe passing is possible.


AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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