Testing Season

It pains me that we have a testing SEASON in education. It physically hurts my heart to know that we have to give children assessments created by someone who is not their teacher, that is designed to evaluate their skills and knowledge on things they may have not yet had the opportunity to learn, much less master, because no state teaches the same things the same way at the same time. (Freedom, ya’ll…) This year, because of the pandemic, our state was granted a waiver. Normally every grade level has at least two subject area tests with three sessions each, and certain grade levels are given the opportunity to take one or more additional subject area test, also with three sessions. This year, every grade level took one test in one subject area with three sessions, except the older kids, who took an additional test with three sessions. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It was a nightmare, and it killed me knowing that kids who understand and can use Algebra II were working on sixth-grade math tests…

Last school year, all testing was suspended because we were all “safer at home” and none of these tests could be done remotely. While I’m grateful for the waiver being granted in our state, I wonder if the Department of Education wouldn’t be better informed every year if they simply asked teachers to tell them about the students they serve. Here’s an example:

Ramona is eight years old, curious about everything, and reads chapter books like they’re going out of style. Her favorite author is Beverly Cleary, and she can read all of those books over and over again, finding something new in them each time. She enjoys writing and can write reasonable-length paragraphs that are on topic, but when she writes longer pieces, things go off the rails a bit and she ends up down rabbit holes. Her spelling is improving, and she is beginning to spot patterns in words to help her spell others follow the same pattern. Math is not her favorite subject, but she is learning to do multi-step problems, and because she is a strong reader, she is able to pull out what information is needed, what isn’t, and what the question is actually asking fairly well. She’s learning multiplication facts as well, using strategies of pattern-finding like she does for spelling. When she grows up, she wants to be a scientist, a doctor, a zookeeper, and a marine biologist. She’s fascinated with cells and viruses (and how they change and adapt), animals of all kinds and the habitats they live in as well as how they have changed over time, and helping others stay healthy. She has crowned herself Queen of Handwashing and reminds everyone to do their part so that no one gets sick. She is curious about history, particularly why people treat others the way they do. When we studied exploration, she felt awful for the people already living on land “discovered” by the Spanish and struggles to understand how one can discover a place another already lives. She’s active, climbs trees, and loves the outdoors. If her curiosity about the world around her is fostered, she will learn quickly and generate more questions and connections between ideas. She enjoys getting to know people and is kind to everyone, intrigued by their cultures and histories, and embraces both similarities and differences between them and herself.

This is what we want for future generations, isn’t it? Something like that presented to those higher up that shows her family and teacher are raising a good kid who will go on to do good things. Even when children are struggling, one could write something like this about them because teachers are able to see ALL the parts of a child–how his writing is slow going but he can tell you everything you would ever want to know about dinosaurs and loves building intricate architecture with paper and how she struggles to read but can compute complex problems in her head and creates art and music that is beautiful and moving. It can show how poverty impacts a child’s ability to progress as quickly as another and what happens when a child is seen for their strengths first, rather than their deficits.

Perhaps instead of testing season, we should spend those three weeks in the spring allowing kids to explore more of what they love, what brings their heart joy. Perhaps those three weeks would be better spent helping them learn to be a driving force in the world through their actions and service toward others. Perhaps those weeks would be better spent really SEEING our children, our students, the kids we serve as humans and acknowledge that we can shape the incredible future that they will create, rather than simply crank out a percentile or level of growth or achievement that may or may not determine our own employment going forward.

Educators, please remember that you don’t teach math, history, or a foreign language. You support children while they learn to navigate life and gather the skills necessary to make the world they live in better and make change happen so that the world THEIR children grow up in is better than this one. And you do all that while giving them opportunities to learn about slope and integers, William the Conqueror, and to understand another culture and language…all of which they’ll use to build, lead, and connect as they grow.

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