Friday, April 17, 2015

Sleepless: Standardized Tests Dilemma

Yes, the tests are keeping me up.


The mix of old tests and new have resulted in too many tests, and too many tests mean not enough time to dig in, teach well, and meet children's needs with strength and consistency. Too many tests have increased the competition quotient too as it's clear that there are some that thrive under these conditions and others that feel diminished in this environment.

It also means that if you are challenged by the content, one test after another way above your current skill level serves to defeat you rather than build you up. How many times can you say to a ten-year-old, "Don't worry, you'll get there if you keep trying. We'll help," when finding the time or supports to help are compromised by too many tests and the time and support those tests take.

What's the solution?

First, we need to know what's ahead? What tests? How many? And when? We can't plan for a good routine of student-friendly learning if we don't know what to expect. Hopefully we'll know about mandated testing for next year sooner than later, and hopefully the ten mandated tests students take at my grade level will be streamlined to no more than four or at most, five.

Then we need to reconsider the testing path. We can't interrupt the learning schedule every two weeks to test. Instead, we need to test now and then, leaving plenty of time for good learning as well as some formative assessment to set the path. Too many long, one-size-fits-all tests disrupt the teaching we're able to do.

Part of the reason I'm conflicted and sleepless about all this is because I find myself on the fence in the testing debates. There's part of me that sees merit in the tests, and there's part of me that sees the deficits that testing brings. It does no good to test and test and test, if there's no time to teach in ways that build students' confidence, skill, and creativity. Yet, if we never measure, will we be able to build our programs with strength. I think the answer lies in the right balance, and the best indicator of that balance is when all your students, in particular your most challenged students, in the school are standing tall, making progress, and feeling good about learning.

For now, I'm ending test prep for the year, and moving into more meaningful teaching. Yes, we'll do some review, but we'll do it in enjoyable, game and project formats. Even though we have five more standardized tests in May, two science MCAS and three PARCC tests, we'll get back to the kind of teaching and learning that makes all students want to come to school. Onward.