April Showers Bring . . . Testing
As we "spring forward" and daylight savings time causes my body to scream for one more hour of sleep, my musings follow a strange path this year.
This tangible mark of spring typically brings thoughts of daffodils, of Spring Break, and of warmer weather right around the corner. Today, however, my mind seems drawn to a different indicator of spring found on many school calendars across the country—the season of standardized testing.
My son just finished his week of state testing, coming home to report each night that he felt successful because he completed each test with plenty of time to spare. On the evening just before his Mathematics Extended Response portion of the exam, he remembered that he always struggles with finding the solution to the same problem each year. This year, he asked us for guidance, and we worked our way through the problem before it was in front of him with the clock ticking. He came home pleased that he had remembered to ask, and I was left reflecting on the fairness of state exams, influenced by so many different factors, being used for determining the level of sanctions and rewards experienced by districts, schools, principals, teachers, and ultimately the students in the classrooms. It calls to mind these words from Linda Darling-Hammond* in the fall of 2011:
With 45 states having adopted the Common Core State Standards, the annual assessments are changing as well. A couple weeks ago, I received an email from my son’s school district explaining how the tests will be changing to align with the new standards. For me, though, the most important part of this letter was not about how the tests would be changing, but the reassurance from the district that the outcomes of a single test will not be the sole measure of my child’s learning or his teachers’ effectiveness.
While the [state test] is just one piece of the educational picture of student achievement, we will continue to use the [state test] results along with other standardized and formative assessments to improve our practice and our outcomes for students. What we will not do is change our instructional methods just to teach to a test. The focus of our improvement efforts will always be on preparing our students for their future. [emphasis is my own]
Bob Hill’s recent blog series, The Real Promise of the Common Core Standards, hits the nail on the head, I think.
It isn’t the new standards or the new exams that will bring about improved practices and outcomes for students. It will be about how these tools are used to inform practice that will matter. As Sarah Brown Wessling* stated in her 2011 keynote address to Chicago Public Schools’ Teachers during NCTE’s Annual Convention, we are missing the mark if we consider the Common Core State Standards to be “a series of tasks that we complete.” Rather, it’s about meeting kids where they are and pushing them to take the next steps. Keeping students at the center of instructional decision-making and considering how the new standards contribute to that mission.
Both Sarah and Bob also speak to the impossibility of change occurring if we continue working in isolation. Educators need to work together within and across content areas, and leaders need to provide the supports necessary for this to be feasible and effective.
I (and others) would add that we should also think about moving away from isolation as also being about breaking down the barriers that exist between school and family. This is another reason why I appreciated the letter about testing that arrived from our home school district, and why I am so excited to hear about family engagement strategies going on around the nation that are breaking down the divide between home and school—building partnerships that focus on improving student learning together. No more pointing fingers to blame one group or another, but remembering that the future of our children is a shared responsibility.
Access these videos with related resources here:
- Linda Darling-Hammond: http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/two-different-approaches-reform
- Sarah Brown Wessling: http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/implementation-common-core-state-standards-and-opportunities-examine-our-practices
*Both Linda Darling-Hammond and Sarah Brown Wessling will be panelists during NCLE's April 3rd Survey Report Briefing in Washington, D.C. Panelists will be reflecting upon the key findings released that same day in a report of NCLE's national survey of educators' professional learning opportunities and experiences. The report will be available on NCLE's Literacy in Learning Exchange on April 3rd.