It’s back-to-school time and those two “dirty words” have already come up on both my teacher and parent radar: standardized testing. On a holistic level, I am not against standardized tests. When created correctly (an oxymoron to some), standardized tests are one way to assess how well a student has grasped the material covered within a given academic period; however, there are aspects of the preparation for and implementation of standardized testing that have come about over the last seven to ten years that simply don’t sit well with my core sensibilities as an educator.
I am a product of public education for my entire K-12 education and I remember taking some form of standardized tests since I was in about the fourth or fifth grade. I don’t remember my teachers, parents, or even my fellow students talking too much about the tests prior to the day or two before us sitting for the exam.
There was no testing anxiety or opting-out. We, the students, just took them and then got back to work. Sometimes we even had a “special” day or an assembly with a guest speaker afterwards.
In hindsight, I can infer that this was the case because standardized tests were not factored as heavily into students’, teachers’, and schools’ overall assessments as they are today. That is a big gripe with the changes in testing that I’ve witnessed and experienced over the course of my lifetime. Too much emphasis is placed on this one form of assessing what a student knows when everything we know about how humans learn tells us that there are multiple entry points by which we garner knowledge. More options for multiple modalities of assessing students’ varying degrees of aptitudes are necessary.
As a teacher, I am aware of standardized tests and the role that they play in education. It’s part of my job to stay abreast of the nuances of these tests which affect my students and me so much. Not agreeing wholeheartedly with these exams does not justify a dismissal of them on my part. That would be doing my students and myself a disservice. I don’t, however, teach to the test. Never have. Never will. I have, however, made it my business to, every year since I became a teacher, grade the standardized tests for the grade level that I teach. Grading the tests and watching the process of how they are graded authentically informs my practice.
Furthermore, it allows me to become intimately acquainted with the changes within the testing questions and the overall trends within the test from one year to the next. This information is valuable when creating my curriculum for the year.
I have to prepare my students to take the NYS ELA 7th-Grade Exam. There’s no way around that. I choose not to do that by bombarding them with practice tests from September to April. That’s a sure fire way to kill innate and intrinsic motivation to inquire and learn. Instead, I weave what I know is likely to be on the test into our regularly-planned lessons. I formulate questions similarly to the way they are worded on the standardized tests. This way my students become exposed to the language and the format of the test so by the time they sit for the actual standardized exam, they are more than prepared. I also teach them poetry and we do a lot of project-based learning and field trips out into their community and other communities — learning activities that are not assessed on state standardized tests. It is an aspect of education that will do just as much if not more for them than taking a standardized test.
As I prepare to greet my seventh-grade students on September 7th, I have lots of things on the forefront of my mind: community-building activities, project ideas, necessary supplies, lesson plans, and so much more. Standardized tests, I’m pleased to report, are nowhere on that list.