There is no data to suggest that practicing standardized assessments over and over again positively influences performance. Ever. So we need to stop doing that.
There is a great deal of talk happening right now about the harm that standardized testing may or may not be doing to children. I find it ironic that very little of it acknowledges what isn’t required but seems to be doing far more pervasive damage to learning and learners across New York State: copious amounts of prep and practice, which (again) have been proven to have no influence on performance whatsoever.
If we’re going to make studies of the stress levels of children, I think it’s important to use a much wider lens.
I think it’s important that we assume responsibility for our portion of the problem too.
For instance, how many kids exhibit higher levels of anxiety and fatigue in the face of daily and nightly test practice?
How many exhibit increased levels of stress when confronted by parents and teachers who continually characterize the test as hard, unfair, or meaningless?
What does it do to a child’s confidence levels when their parents, teachers, and the media suggest they aren’t capable of performing well on standardized assessments?
What does it do to their stress levels when parents suggest that they carry a note into school informing the teachers they respect that they are refusing to take the standardized assessment that our current policy requires them to take?
These are important questions to consider.
I might personally believe few or all of the alarming things that are being suggested about our current standardized assessments. I need to ensure that my beliefs don’t harm the learners I’m responsible for supporting, though. This is why I champion administrators who encourage their teachers to ditch test prep entirely. It’s why I’ve written very polite opt-out letters to those teachers and administrators who imposed this sort of practice on my own kids in the past. Thankfully, they have been few in number and very supportive of my position. I know of few informed parents who survive twelve years of the public school experience without calling some practices and decisions into question, myself included. Those who know me well know that I’m not afraid to question policies or people in power.
I’m not afraid to question my own thinking or admit when I’m wrong either.
The summer before I resigned from my position as an English teacher, I spent a great deal of time designing test prep activities for my own students. It made me sick to my stomach to do this. I was scared and misinformed. This experience significantly influenced my decision to leave a handful of months later. I didn’t know what to do about the tests. I didn’t know what preparing kids well looked like.
None of us did then.
But we do now.
There are some research-based methods for priming kids for standardized tests. We need to listen to that research and act on it.
I’ve learned a lot by supporting numerous teachers who have ditched test prep and considered the influence of priming through a dress rehearsal process instead.
Here are some of the most important things I learned in one school over the last week alone:
- 74 out of 106 third and fourth graders revealed that they experienced some level of stress about the test
- 23 of them said that the reading passages were causing them the greatest stress
- 18 of them said that they are afraid they will not be able to finish on time
- 10 of them admitted that they thought they would be held back a grade if they didn’t do well on the tests
Most importantly, the majority of these learners presented us with quality questions about their needs as test-takers. They’ve told us about the strategies they feel confident using, and they’ve told us that they would like some help learning how to manage their time and their stress levels a little bit better. They have important questions about the test, and they would like specific kinds of help. We didn’t assume what that might be. We asked them.
This is highly reflective, mindful work. There is no test prep going on in these classrooms this week. There are some honest and open conversations and brief problem-solving sessions taking place though.
We know that this isn’t the time to review “main idea and supporting details” for the fifteenth time. This isn’t the time to send home another practice test or review packet, either. Kids should be packing in a lot of quality time with their friends and family outside of school this spring. They should be playing and sleeping and laughing–a lot.
We must talk with them about their worries, if they have them, though. We must help them develop skills and strategies that send them into the testing arena calm and confident.
This doesn’t happen by making them practice. It doesn’t happen by ignoring the test altogether either.It happens when we help them become informed test-takers.It happens when we help them reflect and name their needs.
It happens when we listen.
I’d love to live in a world where tests were not a reality for students. I’ll continue working toward that future reality. But right now, kids take standardized tests, they take local tests, and they take them at all levels of the system. This causes much stress, and it’s not something we can ignore.