Now that a fall has passed without administration of a large scale test for the first time in several years, I find myself anticipating the approach of Smarter Balance this spring with many different emotions.
My first inclination, as with many other people, I suspect is a bit of nervous anticipation for myself and for my students. Will they be successful? Have I taught successfully to each of my students? Will they do the best they can? These and other questions rush through my head. There is so much great learning that takes place in my classroom, and so many great conversations that learners engage in. But will these result in success? My butterflies continue to ponder and fly, working up a tizzy until the “big day”. Which brings me to my next point.
I’m a data junkie. The economics major in me still surfaces, feeling that numbers can prove things that feel elusive without quantitative evidence. Large scale tests can help to confirm what schools are doing right, help provide clear areas where growth can be made by teams and schools, and creates a starting point for so many valuable conversations about student learning. There’s nothing like the excitement of seeing that a particular teacher was a major positive outlier in a certain subtest or group of standards. A diamond among us! Without the numbers, the strength of my colleagues can remain hidden and untapped.
My last emotion lies in questioning the entire process that we fall victim to each year. Why are we testing kids so much? A desire to just close the door, teach, and NOT subject students to the stress and anxiety brought on by testing also prevails. Reading about countries like Finland, who choose not to test students until the end of High School, makes me question our entire process. Are we really doing what’s best for kids when we test them over the course of several days and many hours? Are we so low level in our collaboration that we can’t evaluate ourselves as teachers without subjecting learners to arbitrary measures of their knowledge? And furthermore, when I start to think about the investment of both time and money that has been poured into the testing, I can’t help but wonder if our resources couldn’t be better utilized to help kids.
So where do you stand? How are tests useful in your schools? How might they also distract us from our real purpose as educators?