standardized testing

A few weeks ago I received the letter from my daughter’s teacher.  It said something along the lines of “It’s that time of year again when we are going to begin preparing for state testing.”

Now don’t get me wrong, this teacher is one of the best.  My daughter has had a great year and absolutely loves her teacher.

What struck me as odd is the embedded message that seems to be true in many schools across our country – “Now is the time of year when we stop teaching and start preparing for the test.”  In Illinois the testing season begins in March and finishes in May with AP exams.  Each of these exams causes many educators to essentially stop instruction of content and skills and begin test prep.  In schools, this preparation takes on many forms – sample problems as warm ups, practice tests for homework, or even full lessons on test taking strategies.

We can’t blame the testing companies, we stepped right into it…  The era of accountability has caused many educators to become test prep providers and forsake what we truly know about learning.  In regards to knowledge and skills, learning has always been about acquiring, internalizing, and then applying.

Shouldn’t all assessments simply be a form of application of knowledge and an opportunity to showcase mastery?

Why does a “test” have to be a break in learning?

Educators who chose not focus their instructional time have cause an equally troubling problem and have created a new consumer market for test preparation companies.  This was done by essentially communicating to our kids, our parents, our stakeholders the message “We are going to teach our curriculum – we don’t have time to do test prep.”  We are basically saying that the required curriculum is not enough preparation for standardized assessments.

Now on the verge of an entirely new assessment system (PARCC and SBAC) grounded in well publicized standards (CCSS) we have another choice to make.

Will we choose to communicate the message that what we do on a regular basis, every day, is preparing students to demonstrate and apply their learning?  Can we choose to tell our communities that there is no need to do “test prep”?

Three weeks ago we saw the Seahawks win the Super Bowl.  In the weeks leading up to the big game do we think the coaches told their players that to prepare for the game we are going to stop running plays and stop strength training and do Super Bowl prep?  I would guess that coaches don’t choose to heap extra pressure and anxiety by hyping up the importance of the game.  No – they train hard, do what they have done all season and look to Sunday as the opportunity to show the world how great they are.

It’s up to us to make a difference for our kids – no anxiety, no special preparation.  Just go out there and show the world how much you have learned!

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