To the Test!

It’s that time of year again- crunch time for teachers and students, as they make the final turn for the last few weeks before... the test.  It makes me sad that so much time is wasted in the classrooms, and that  many feel they have to “teach to the test” to “make the grade” which, by the way, is a floating target.  

I’m retired, but worked over half of my teaching career in an at-risk K-6 elementary school with high mobility and high free-and-reduced lunch percentages. The underlying message to the staff was, “Improve test scores or the school will close”. The pressure for teachers working under these conditions is insanely intense. The district inundates the building with coaches and experts and meetings, leaving little time to actually plan and use the data provided, in a meaningful way.

We coach, we push, we pray that students will show exactly what they can do on those all-so-important test days.  We wait with bated breath for the numbers to reflect all that hard work.  We are deflated when the scores arrive and there’s little or no change. We then have to send a letter home to the community. “We’re sorry, but our school is failing.  If you’d like to send your child somewhere else where they know what they’re doing, you have our blessing.”  Of course, that’s not what it says, but that’s how we feel.  And rarely do we lose any students because of it.  Families like their school. They like their teachers.  

We try to pull the remainder of the year together.  Just because testing is done in March, (at least in Colorado, and I’m guessing everywhere else to keep it “standardized”...) doesn’t mean the year is over or that we’re finished.  For those precious few weeks before the end of the year, we get to have fun with teaching and learning again.  Field trips, assemblies, learning fairs, field days and other special events reappear, helping us forgot, for a moment.

I never did teach to the test, but, sadly, I know several who do.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against assessing for understanding. But that’s entirely different, in my mind.  I am completely against the philosophy that all kids learn the same, can be on the same page, at the same time, according to their ages, and that six months of prepping and 3 weeks of testing them will make that happen. I resented the test prep books that test companies sell to districts, so students could “practice”. I sent them home so the kids who wanted to look through them, maybe do a couple pages, ask questions about what something meant, had that opportunity.  And we talked about test taking strategies.  That was it.  There was not enough time in the year to devote to testing hysteria. 

Reagan said, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.  He was talking economics, but the correlation is the same for education.  Making learning fun and purposeful, challenging kids to think outside the box and be creative, giving them enough time to practice what they’re learning- that should be the focus in the classroom.  The happy outcome under those conditions ensures a learning environment where “the test” is simply another day.