Test is a 4 Letter Word @ 08 Mar 2015
It’s certainly a hot button issue nowadays in and out of the classrooms and hallways of school buildings. As an educator, I try to read as much as I can on both sides of the conversation about the sheer quantity of testing administered to our students, but I can’t quite wrap my head around how this shift can be seen as a move in the right direction.

I live in Florida. The first round of state testing began this week in schools across the state and it wasn’t pretty to say the least. As many of the assessments shifted to computer delivery this year, it was quite predictable that such an untested, large-scale roll out of this sort would not go off without a hitch. Districts across the state had such issues with the online testing platform on day one that many had to postpone their administration of the exams; some postponed indefinitely.

Aside from the technical difficulties, there seems to be a lack of human element behind the decision to implement so much testing. From an educator’s perspective, there is so much instructional time lost during “testing season.” Teachers are now spending so much time administering tests and preparing students for the format of those tests that the students are not learning anything new during the time that they are testing. The point of assessments is to use the results to drive instruction; to analyze the data and determine what the students did and did not “get” so that future instruction can focus on developing the areas of weakness. However, the results of some of the assessments that students undergo between now and the end of the year will not even be received until the start of next school year, so those reports will do nothing to drive instruction. What a student had difficulty with in April is not necessarily what they are still having difficulty with in August when the results arrive, so what value do those results really have to us at that point. Then we can look at the fact that any assessment is truly just a snapshot in time. What if a student has a bad day, is feeling under the weather, had a stressful morning at home, is worried about their sick grandma, etc., etc.? Any number of things can impact a student’s performance on any given day, yet their performance on THAT day will go on their transcript, could impact a graduation requirement, and could impact the large percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is based on their students’ performance on that one exam. One exam…on one day in some cases. Not the other 179 days that they have taught brilliant lessons, developed strong student relationships and made learning fun for those students...the stuff that matters most.

I teach at the high school level and it is still so tough for me to wrap my head around all of the different testing that is required. From the state English Language Arts and Math assessments for the different grade levels, to the End of Course Exams for individual courses that grows each year, to SATs and ACTs, to state test retakes for those who didn’t pass on their one day the year before, etc. it’s amazing to me that school counselors are able to keep track! We should adorn school counselors in superhero capes rather than gowns at our graduation ceremonies for ensuring that those students have completed and passed every single graduation requirement to be able to walk across that stage!

At what point do we stop adding high stakes assessments on the backs of our students? At what point do we stop and say perhaps less is more? If the purpose of assessment is truly to use the results to address student needs and help them reach mastery of content, perhaps we’re going about this all wrong. As an educator, I would find far more value in a pre and posttest for the year model. Let’s test students as they enter a course or grade level, get a quick turnaround on those results as a baseline for the year, use the results to focus instruction throughout the year and then test them as they exit that grade or course to determine true growth and have a better measure of teacher effectiveness. That seems far more manageable, simplistic, timely and purposeful than the current structure of testing the spring season away.

What are your thoughts on assessment in today’s classrooms? Sound off in the comments below!

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