It is testing time. In my private school and the public schools around us, children are taking annual tests. However, the nature, number, amount, and consequences of the tests are distinctly different. Our students are taking standardized tests, one a day; my fourth graders will take a total of three. They haven’t been spending weeks prepping for them and the tests are not interfering in any way with their regular learning. For example, I spent a couple of periods earlier this week going over some strategies with the kids and having them take a practice test. That was it. Today they take their first test and it will take one period. Before it they will have a regular math class and afterwards I’ll introduce a new unit on historical fiction. The tests have not affected our daily instruction in any way.
The results will be used to inform us, to help us improve our instruction, to see if anything jumps out at us. Did a lot of kids end up struggling with something we thought they knew? Then we will know to do it differently and, hopefully, better next time. Did a child who is already struggling do poorly? These assessments results will help us considering how better to help him or her. And at the other end, did we overlook someone who is especially good in math? If so, we will look at his work, perhaps do an in-school assessment and then consider if he or she should move to a faster paced class in that subject next year. These assessements give us more to work with when considering how best to help him or her. They do not determine whether they move on to the next grade, get into a middle school, or anything else that could affect them lifelong. They are NOT high stakes.
I started teaching in the mid-1970s and ended up in a private school only because there were absolutely no public school jobs available at that time. After all, I had gone to public schools myself. I stayed here because it was a great place for me — I have always had enormous freedom to be creative as a teacher, to do so many wonderful things over the years. At first I felt guilty not being in a public school, but then the testing mania got going …and going…and going. Many public teachers of my generation, creative teachers all, took early retirement rather than having to keep going in this climate. They were no longer able to do the wonderful creative projects they had been doing successfully for so long. The tests took over. Preparing for them changed the curriculum and not for the better.
I have mostly stayed quiet on Common Core. After all, it is not required for my school. And also, there is much in it that resembles ways I teach and so I admire the intent with that. I can see aspects of it that are very much what we do in my private school and others like mine. But there is one profound and huge difference. The tests. Everything I read and hear about them is horrible. I will admit that I always personally hated taking tests. They have never reflected my abilities. And so I’m totally sympathetic to those like me. And can only imagine how miserable it must be for them in these days of relentless testing. I’d have begged my parents to let me opt out.
I see no benefit to children with this relentless testing. No wonder I see more and more teachers caving and quitting. I think I probably would too.
Learning should be joyous. Teaching too. Joy and tests are not two words I see together. Frankly, joy is not a word I see used much these days about schooling. I hope it comes back soon.