Friday, April 15, 2016

Testing: Is the problem in the theory or the execution?

This morning, my son and I had our own little pep rally as we rode to school.  This was the last day of NY state testing for him.  Today he will finish the math constructed response portion of the test.  All week, he's been confident.  This was much different than his experience last year.  During the last day of the ELA portion of the test, he broke down in tears because he struggled with the extended response sections.  Now, some may read this and say, "See that's why we shouldn't be testing these kids.  Or, that's what's the problem with Common Core. Or that's why we opted out.  It's too much pressure for kids these days."  I didn't quite view it in that way.  When I spoke with my son and still ask him about his apprehension, it's not the test that scares him.  He says that he doesn't want to get held back.  His stress comes from the disruption of his social confidence.  This makes me ask the  question, why does he think that he will repeat a grade if he doesn't do well.  Why have we put that type of pressure on kids?

I hear many arguments about why testing is harmful to children especially as the "opt out" movement gains traction.  I can remember as early as first grade taking the California Achievement test and then moving to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, PSAT's, SAT's, Praxis and so on and so forth.  With each level of my educational career, there was another test that I had to pass to prove my knowledge and skills in certain contexts.  I don't ever remember feeling stressed out about testing even though we completed practice assessments and learned test taking strategies and on and on.  Can we say that we are preparing students for college and career-readiness without then, also preparing them for the very things that they'll need to do in order to get into college or secure a career?  How many professional careers don't require some form of testing to show proficiency?

I wonder if our perception of testing has contributed to the way we execute our emphasis on testing.  I can remember some years back, working in a school that was introducing a new behavior system.  I sat back and listened to some of my colleagues ask questions and push in areas where they perceived the system to be punitive.  In theory, the system was more neutral than awards-based or punitive.  As I listened, I anticipated the misconceptions would play out in the execution.  I pleaded with my school leader to have a follow-up session to clear some of these misconceptions.  As with all schools, time didn't allow for the school to tie-up loose ends and these same teachers used this system in a punitive way.  It produced major consequences for the school, teachers, students and parents.   In this way, their perceptions led a clear path to their execution.

Do I think testing is bad?  I don't have a definitive answer to that question yet.  I'm still gathering research around that.  Do I think there is room for changes in the execution of preparing students for testing absolutely on all levels?  This shouldn't just be a teacher's cross to bear, but the readjustment of perspective should also come from each state's DOE to the district superintendents and also the school leadership.  When you tie anything to someone's survival, there are bound to be terrible consequences. 

 Hmmm, makes me wonder.  Is this the common "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." argument?   Not sure.  What I do know is, from my son's point of view, its not the testing he's afraid of, but the fear of repeating 4th grade.  With an open heart and mind, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time,

Let's Get Kids Reading