Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tests Upset the Flow

I was going to reserve comment until the summer, but anyone who reads my blog probably realized it wouldn't take me long to talk about the tests.

The tests upset the learning flow--there's too many tests.

Young children thrive on a positive routine and thoughtful classroom choreography.

When that routine is upset, the equilibrium of the classroom is upset and learning doesn't happen in the positive ways possible.

How do tests upset that equilibrium?
  • Special educators and teaching assistants are pulled from service delivery to administer tests--that means that our inclusion classrooms do not have the typical support, and children who benefit from that support do not get it.
  • Our access to technology is compromised. At our school we're used to having lots of tech access and our blended learning programs depend on it. We've come to rely on that technology as a terrific avenue for personalization and differentiation. Now, with the tests, we don't have the same access many mornings because so many are using the computers for testing.
  • A choppy schedule impedes learning. With students taking 8 PARCC tests, two MCAS tests, 12 system-wide content-area tests, and one system-wide grade-level math test, many mornings are atypical due to testing. That means students are sitting in rows working independently to take the tests. By afternoon, their openness to learning is not what it typically is due to the test demands. Also for those that struggle with the content, these tests are very challenging to their energy and confidence related to further learning. 
  • Some specialist schedules and teacher collaboration meetings are upset by scheduling the tests as well. 

What should we do?

I remain a fan of streamlined standardized testing as I do think the measures, to some degree, positively influence programs and learning. Long ago, before these shared standardized tests, some children's lack of growth or development were not noticed or cared for. Now that some students who struggle are a "low test score," there seems to be greater attention to their overall program.

I do think, however, that the tests should be given during the second-to-last week of school on two-three days. I think everyone should take the same test that places them where they left off the last time and tests what new skills they've acquired and how high they've grown on the standards-knowledge list. This would mean that all students would be testing at their just-right level of challenge and the results could be given to a school to inform programs for the following fall so that every child, with regard to skill development, receives the instruction needed. 

Tests like these would mean that our teaching learning programs throughout the year would be monitored by a number of informal, formative assessments and perhaps a system-wide test or two to gauge students' progress and needs. Then there would be "test week" the week before school ended, and a final week to celebrate everyone's efforts related to a wonderful year of teaching and learning.

Two tests would cost less and take away less time from the terrific learning and teaching that's possible when good choreography, great tools, and vigorous, joyful learning environments are in place.

It's possible to move in this direction.

I continue to remain a fan of the common core as guiding knowledge, skill, and concept principles. We probably have to move beyond matching these standards to specific grades due to the natural developmental curve that occurs with student learning, however, I do think its good to have a set of common standards to work with as these standards promote depth of learning, great collaboration with regard to teaching, and a solid foundation of knowledge, skill, and concept. Since "knowledge begets knowledge" we have to work towards giving every child a strong foundation from which to grow.