A recent article on the upcoming Common Core assessments that will be administered in 39 states this spring (2015) predicts that student scores will suffer. The writer cites the experiences of Kentucky and New York, where the new testing took place this past Fall (2014), two very different places and two very different results. The difference?
The writer proposes that managing expectations was the key. Kentucky schools kept parents informed and let them know there would be a dip in grades. New York didn’t.
But, how do you tell parents that their precious, bright, straight-A students aren’t going to shine? Some might even fail those tests!
I have yet to meet a child who cannot learn. I have met a few who are not willing to expend the effort – they are just not interested, but most often I meet kids who don’t understand what learning is, how it feels; how good it feels. Really, really good. Or they want to learn, but they cannot even begin to imagine how to get there. (But that’s another blog…)
My experience with kids and tests is that tests are big time confidence busters….
It is important that students understand how to exhibit knowledge. Tests, especially standardized types, often contain tricky wording and very formal language, as well as the need for students to complete multiple steps to form a solution. Quizzes and classroom assignments don’t always contain the same elements. This gap must be bridged.
I’ve been told by my Department Chair to make sure the kids see the same type of questions that are “on the test.” While that may seem like the obvious answer, it is a tricky one, and if not handled correctly, will leave kids even less prepared to do well on assessments.
These new tests don’t mean kids have suddenly lost knowledge. These are the same kids as before these new tests. These new tests are testing kids on something different, something they aren’t yet good at. I say “yet” because this process of helping children understand what they are learning is, in itself, a learning process.
Managing expectations also means re-teaching all of us about what a grade or a score really means. It means re-thinking what standardized tests may show; it means re-thinking what learning really looks like, and how it is demonstrated. Those changes are hard ones. We like our comfort zones: “my kid is an A student… I am a good teacher because my kids have high test scores… we admit A students to our college, because that is the only way to find excellence… I gotta cheat because if I don’t make A’s I won’t get into a good school…. “It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Breaking that requires every participant to change at the same time!
I think the present wave of testing everything – just different everythings – means we don’t really have change, even with the new standards. So the new tests will have lower scores “until” the new teaching takes hold, or, in this world of instant gratification, until somebody yells loud enough that politicians cave and change yet again (as we’ve seen with some states already).
Doing what’s best for the kids
The idea that we are doing what is “best for the kids” makes what we are doing with all the testing pretty darn silly! That’s not what is best for the kids, it’s politics, baby!
Having said all of that, and speaking as a math teacher (full disclosure!), I believe we need to let everyone settle down a bit. If you are a college administrator, choose your students ( just for one year!) by blind lottery – give them a chance regardless of grades or SAT/ACT scores. Don’t worry about choosing valedictorians. They’ve peaked!
If you are a high school administrator, review teachers for the amount of messiness, student work posted, children vying to answer puzzling questions. A consistently quiet class, day after day, just ain’t natural!
If you are a parent, check your kids joy level. What classes do they look forward to? Which ones do they wish they could miss? What teachers challenge them? Who bores them to sleep? Why? Ask them to explain what they are doing in class (or for homework). You may not understand it, but they should have a beginning understanding. That is often the best test of all!
What about the students? They want the “passing” grade, so they can relax. They are not being rewarded for learning. They are being rewarded for gaming the system enough to get an A, or a passing grade, depending on what a parental unit will be happy with!
How do we change that Pavlovian response? Aye, there’s the rub! I suggest we do it one teacher, one student, one parent, one administrator, at a time. Don’t try to legislate change! Just buy into what is really BEST FOR OUR KIDS. Let this be our acid test, and let the action match the goal. (BTW, did I mention that it’s okay to let kid’s struggle, that we don’t have to give them everything… Or expect them all to earn A’s…)