Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Three Reminders for Educators on the Eve of the Spring Standardized Testing Onslaught

Of course we all acknowledge state standardized tests can't possibly measure everything that matters. Our state even forbids the use of state test scores as the sole basis of making high-stakes decisions. Yet, as the season of testing falls upon us, the obsession with bubble sheets and number two pencils begins anew. But we need to be reminded that tests are only a small piece of information that matters about our students and our teachers. Before we start scheduling the "Test Prep Pep Rallies" and giving our students those motivational speeches that elevate these tests higher than they should be, we need to be truthful with our students: in the grand scheme of public education, these test scores do not measure what's most important, and the results certainly do not come close to capturing what it means to be an excellent teacher, especially when excellent teachers impact lives more than test scores.

Recently, a Florida teacher wrote this letter to her students just before the onslaught of state tests. I think perhaps it reminds us that testing should always be put in proper perspective, not elevated to some major life goal or achievement. No one is going brag 10 years down the road that they made a "Level 5" on their English End of Course Test or their Biology End of Course Test. As this teacher points out, there are many more things worthwhile to brag about.

"My Dearest Students,

This week you will take your Florida State Assessments (FSA) for reading and math. I know how hard you worked, but there is something important that you must know. The FSA does not assess all of what makes each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way I do, and certainly not the way your families do.

They do not know that some of you speak two languages, or that you love to sing or paint a picture. They don't know that your friends can count on you to be there for them, that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day, or that your face turns red when you feel shy. They have not heard you tell differences between a King Cobra and a rattler. They do not know that you participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that despite dealing with bad circumstances, you still come to school with a smile. They do not know that you can tell a great story or that really love spending time (baking, hunting, mudding, fishing, shopping...) with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be very trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try every day to be your very best.

The scores you will get from this test will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart. You are smart! You are enough! You are the light that brightens my day! So while you are preparing for this test and while you are in the midst of it all, remember that there is no way to "test" all the amazing and awesome things that make you, YOU!

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please keep all kids in the state of Florida in your thoughts tomorrow. Thank you."

Here's my own three reminders to educators as we find ourselves on the eve of another "Season of Standardized Testing."

1. As we move into the "Season of Testing" let's remember that we don't teach test-takers; we teach real human beings with interests, hopes, dreams and passions that can't be reduced to multiple-choice questions.

2. As long as students and teachers give us their best, we acknowledge and celebrate that. Celebrate accomplishments such as poems written and published; hours of world-changing community service served; and songs written and sung. Celebrate what the bubble sheets ignore.

3. Keep testing in its place as one piece of data. Don't elevate it needlessly. Don't hold school-wide pep rallies that elevate these things superficially. Leave in their place.

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