Caution: Bridge Ahead


During the past week, my students were busy studying for the upcoming AIMS test.  In the morning we review reading and math skills and in the afternoon students use Writing Roadmap, which is an online writing program that gives students immediate feedback on their writing skills.

One morning my students were reviewing functional and informational text and were getting ready to take the unit assessment when one of my students asked, “Mr. Chavez, can we use the dictionary or any other reference book during AIMS testing?”  I answered, “No, you can only use the dictionary or thesaurus for the writing section of AIMS and you can use a math reference sheet that is located at the end of the test booklet.”  The student looked at me disappointedly and said, “Why do the Standards state that we have learn to use the dictionary and reference books, but we are not allowed to use them to show what we have learned.”  After assuring the student and the class that they would do well on the test, they quietly began working on the unit assessment.  While the class was completing the unit assessment, I kept thinking about the statement the student made about not being able to use reference books or notes on an assessment.  After pondering the question for several minutes, while multi-tasking, I thought to myself, “What would be the outcome if students were allowed to use notes, technology or reference materials on benchmark testing or on the AIMS test.

It has been my experience that if students know ahead of time that they can use notes on formative assessments they tend to focus on the lessons and their note taking skills improves.  In addition, all of my students have a flash drive that contains examples of different types of writing assignments.  Before my students begin a writing assignment, they must first review their writing folder on their flash drive, which results in better student writing.  Some may argue that using notes, technology or reference materials on assessments do not allow a true measure of student learning.  However, I believe that if student were allowed to use notes, technology or reference books they would achieve higher test scores or produce learning portfolios by utilizing learning tools that are available to the current workforce.  Furthermore, during my past real world experiences as a heavy equipment mechanic, I constantly had to refer to notes and service manuals to perform my tasks successfully.

In wanting my students to have the upper hand when they become employable, I keep in contact with a Human Resources Consultant who also worked for my previous employer, but now is employed by county government, and she informed me that employers are looking to hire someone who knows how to use reference materials than someone who uses memorization to perform their tasks.  In years past, rote learning could lead to academic success.  However, today’s students are faced with learning so much more and they are expected to learn in the same way as students from 100 years ago.  If students are to be college and career ready, then they should be assessed using 21st century career skills.

Show me a bridge that was built by an engineer who never referenced his structural steel code books and I will drive an extra 100 miles to avoid crossing that bridge.  How about you?  Who do you want constructing the bridges you cross?


Manuel Chavez

Manuel Chavez

San Manuel, AZ

My name is Manuel Michael Chavez Jr. My greatest contribution to education is being able to relate my 20 years of work experience to my students, which I obtained while working for Magma/BHP Copper, one of the largest underground copper mines in the world. My intentions had been to work for Magma Copper Company for the summer and return to school the following fall to pursue my dream of becoming an educator. Twenty years later, I was still employed with Magma Copper and had held various underground mining positions with the last position being a heavy equipment mechanic. In 1999, the mine announced complete closure and I had been forced and given a second opportunity to pursue my dream. What a bittersweet life-changing event in my life. I obtained my Bachelor’s of Science degree in education from NAU and have been teaching for the Mammoth-San Manuel Unified School District in Southwest Arizona for nine years and am pursuing National Board Certification. In 2009, I was selected as an Ambassador for Excellence for the Arizona Educational Foundation and currently sit on the Board of Directors for Sun Life Family Health Care Clinics and the WestEd organization. It is my belief that by intertwining my classroom lessons with my own life experiences and providing my students real world life scenarios, students become engaged in the lessons and develop a desire to learn.

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