Testing Season is Nearly Over

What is Testing Season?

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

As we enter the last few weeks of school, two things are on pretty much everyone’s mind: testing and summer.

If you are an adult in the school system, you are either preparing students for some sort of exam and likely that exam is of the standardized test variety, or you are letting students know they will do well. So you are either a test proctor, monitor, or covering for someone who is a proctor or a monitor, or you are a student support person.

If you are a parent, you’re likely dealing with an anxious child who somehow believes their entire year comes down to how they score on one test.

If you are a student, you’re between an “I really don’t care,” and an “Oh my God, what if I don’t meet my goal?” mentality.

And to what end?

The Potential Impact

I have a friend whose son is in elementary school, and his school has completed all standardized tests and it awards day is complete. (For 2020-2021, that is an accomplishment it itself!)

This young man earned SEVEN awards – quite an accomplishment by anyone’s standards. School officials called his name and gave him certificates and celebrated him.

But do you know what he will remember? The popsicle party he did not get to attend.

And my friend’s son is not an entitled kid. He’s not upset about what he didn’t “get.” He’s concerned because to his classmates the popsicle party represents who is smart and who is not.

Many students do not know how difficult meeting or achieving a test goal is after a certain point. Even if parents understand that MAP is an adaptive test that gets harder with each correct answer and easier with each incorrect answer, sometimes they don’t recognize the difficulty in achieving a testing goal.

Adaptive testing is brilliant when it is used correctly, but I have not seen it used correctly in many years.

See, kids take this test from 5K – at least through the 8th grade, and they take it so frequently, and under so much pressure, that within a few years the test loses any value it had for the student.

What is worse is that they test so frequently in elementary grades that by the time the kids get to high school, many students see tests as unnecessary punishments, pure and simple. 

Tests feel like punishments because students were conditioned to view them this way in elementary school. 

For example, think of those end-of-the-year MAP score celebrations. I’ve hated them since my children were small, and see even less value in them now, because the kid who did his absolute best on the test and perhaps earned a high score was excluded from the celebration because his goal was not met. That exclusion translates to punishment for most children.

First, the party is really for the school. They want to see kids improve their scores so that they can rest assured that teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators did their jobs effectively, and since the test is ungraded, by itself, it offers no reward for the student. So, schools try to entice the kids to do their best by offering some external reward. And for many students, this method works, or they would not keep doing it.

Second, and more problematic though, is that one adaptive test, given on one day, stands to provide a lot of inaccurate self-judgment on the kid’s part.  They may have scored “off the charts” in many areas, but were one question off from the last time they took the test, and therefore, failed to meet their goals.

One Student’s Story

My friend’s son won seven awards, but what he remembers from that day is that he didn’t get a popsicle, like many of the other students because he didn’t exceed a standardized test score. I am sure he wondered at that point if anything he did that year mattered in light of that test/party.

And what is worse is that I am certain the school knows that there are cases where a student is at the top of the class and has mastered everything for the year, so the adaptive test presented more challenging questions that this student will not even be introduced to until next year, or possibly the next, so there is no way the student should be expected to meet a higher goal.

It is good information to have, no doubt. If he already knows the material, having a test to show that information is highly beneficial. 

However, withholding attendance at an end-of-the-year party, or not allowing him to have a popsicle with all of the other “smart kids,” potentially does more harm than good.

Fortunately, my friend’s son has exceptional parents who know how to turn an unfair situation into a character-building experience, and I can’t praise them enough for that. He also has adults who say, “Skip the popsicle, we’re celebrating you at Pelicans!” So my friend’s son will be no worse for the wear. 

But what about the kids who do not have that type of support? 

It is little wonder that we deal with such apathy by the time the kids get to high school.

The test is not without merit, but there has to be a better way than operating on an exclusion model to motivate students to do their best. 

I’m not saying that everyone needs a “participation trophy.” That’s a subject for another blog, and part of why we find ourselves in a sea of apathy today, but I am saying that elementary students should not be under such pressure. 

So What Did The School Get?

I’m only fifteen years into my career as an educator, but I know that the school lost more than it gained on that day. Sure, data was collected, but what good was the data? Some kids take the test seriously every time because that is just who they are. Others just click their way through the test whether they know the material or not. These actions mean that at best, the data is skewed. 

Schools (and politicians) want to know if the school did its job in preparing students for the next grade, and that is a question they deserve an answer to, but is standardized testing a plausible way to garner that information?

Can they receive accurate information if a group of students takes the test without trying? Can they receive accurate information if students just do not test well? Can they receive that information if the students have their minds on some problem that happened on the bus or at home, and they can’t concentrate on the test?

Until students become intrinsically motivated, and until schools and communities can begin to work harmoniously towards the same goal, kids like my friend’s son will continue to suffer at the hands of a system that desperately wants to help him.

My Idea?

Let kids be kids. 

Reinstate nap time and sensory play in pre-school – kindergarten. 

Work on reading, basic math, social skills, and character-building, but do not give those kids a single test. 

Instead, ask the teacher if the student has accomplished what was necessary, and then accept that answer and help those who need more help and promote those who are ready. I bet there will be greater success for all students if teachers could build a community of learners and then teach them rather than worrying about preparing them for a test that will not matter at the end of the day.

Celebrate what they know and motivate them (without excluding them) to want to learn what they don’t know. 

Test them, if you must, at the end of 2nd or 3rd grade and use that as a benchmark that is revisited once a year. Or operate on a pre/post test model. Test them as the enter and then as they leave the grade, but stop all of these mid-point checks.

If you trust your teachers and give them the tools necessary and the freedom desired to teach, those kids will soar because most teachers are totally invested in their students, not because student success or failure reflects on the teacher, but rather because teachers love their students and they value an educated society. 

Work on mindset and intrinsic motivation from the beginning, and give students (and staff)  the mental health support they need at all levels of school.

Then, follow Finland’s model. Test them once before they leave school and marvel in the outcome.

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