Please put your curriculum away and get out a scantron

It is the time of year when the optimism of January and the sugar rush of Valentines Day is behind us and we teachers spend more and more time thinking about standardized tests. Today I read a nice reflection by a 20 year classroom teacher who categorizes “the good, the bad and the ugly” of standardized testing.  She wrote:

As a veteran teacher with more than 20 years of teaching experience in Missouri and Florida, I say with confidence, my fellow teachers and I are not afraid of evaluation based in part on our students’ performance. Our purpose is to ensure that our students are successful in school and life. However, we object to the thought that students’ performance on a single test alone is a valid measure of what they have learned or how well we have taught them. As teachers, we are more worried about the impact of standardized testing on our students than on ourselves.

That last bit really stayed with me because much of the backlash teachers who speak out against testing receive is this line of “Oh you just don’t want to be evaluated.” However, most of us in education dismiss this claim. Go ahead, evaluate us but please be fair. Here are my suggestions for surviving a flawed testing system:

  • Empower your students to be successful: In Texas, our state exams are tied to promotion and ultimately graduation. We teachers cannot afford to be flippant or dismissive of an exam that will dramatically impact our students’ futures. What has worked for me is to block off a nice chunk of time (2 – 4 weeks) and specifically teach my exam’s objectives as well as test taking strategies. Through carefully tracking of progress via objective mastery I am able to pin point where my students need more in-depth review as well as where I can cut corners and skip content.
  • Use the Sexy Six: Looking for a quick, catchy and extrememly effective multiple choice test taking strategy to teach your kids? The Sexy Six work for me – check it out.
  • Advocate for Change: I am hopeful about quality of the assessments coming out of the Common Core exam writing consortiums (Smarter Balanced and PARCC) however, because I live in Texas, I cannot look forward to aligning with these next generation tests any time soon (But someday! Texas isn’t going to hold out on adopting the Common Core forever! I am optimistic!). I think teachers can play a key role in calling for helpful standardized testing. This might look like boycotting unaligned and extraneous exams as is happening now in Seattle or it might look like me writing a letter to my state senator and asking for legislation to allow districts in Texas to opt into Smarter Balanced or PARCC (Fellow Texans – who’s with me?!?!)

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