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You are not a Test

April 9, 2016

I have many reasons to be proud to be part of the Mid-Del Public Schools family. We have amazing students and families. We have dedicated teachers and principals. We have a supportive community that includes Tinker Air Force Base and Rose State College. Most of all, we have our priorities in order.

You may have already seen this on Facebook, but in case you haven’t, here’s a letter that a parent of a Ridgecrest Roadrunner posted last night.

Ridgecrest Roadrunners.jpg

We all get hung up on our accomplishments, and to an extent, that’s ok. We should be proud when we do well. When a school raises test scores, I have no problem with the celebrations that follow. As little stock as I place in the A-F report cards, if I were a principal, and my school received an A, I’d hang up a big old banner too.

Still, the second paragraph of this letter to students captures what the best educators among us know to be true:

[The tests] do not know that some of you speak two languages, or that you love to sing or draw. They have not seen your natural talent for dancing. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them, that your laughter can brighten the darkest day or that your smile lightens a room….

What I know about the teachers and principal at this school is that they do care about student achievement. They care about getting their students ready for not just the state test, but also for the next grade or the next school. I know that they have a veteran staff and that they rally around students and families in need.

Because tests have high-stakes attached to them, we must take them seriously. One thing we know to be part of our job is to protect children from harm. Artificial consequences attached to assessments that are poor descriptors of learning and ability and worse descriptors of future success fall into this category. We should not gear instruction solely around them, nor should we act as if they don’t exist.

We also should not, as Rob Miller writes, ignore the fact that some most of our students have other priorities.

The folks making six-figure salaries for testing vendors like Pearson, ETS, CTB/McGraw-Hill, and Measured Progress believe that  children OWE them their loyalty by giving their best effort to this annual exercise: “By God, we’ve worked hard to craft these beautiful measures of student learning, the very least you could do is show your appreciation by doing your best.”

This presumption is so strong in their mind that because this is such self-evidently important work, that they cannot imagine anybody not seeing its value.

These folks live in a magical land where every child is loved, comes to school eager to learn, and loves to sit quietly for hours taking multiple choice tests on a laptop, while unicorns frolic with elves in rainbow-laden fields.

Children are smarter than this. They understand the reality that these tests are simply a means to sort, rank, humiliate and punish kids through various forms of public shaming, things like grade retention, denial of a high school diploma, and forced placement in “remediation” classes.

The testing companies say kids should love these swell assessments because they were crafted with their best interests in mind.

Of course, parents and students have to be made to believe this because otherwise, what’s the purpose of it all?

If a student is bored or tired or hungry or distracted or scared or neglected or angry or sad or just doesn’t care or doesn’t see any point or just feels like playing video games or listening to loud music or playing basketball or singing songs or painting a picture or checking out the hot girl two rows over or thinks that high-stakes testing is stupid or prefers to write open-ended answers in the form of rap lyrics or long rambling run-on sentences like this   .   .   .   if that happens, every single piece of precious data derived from these test results, ranging  from A-F report cards, to teacher VAM evaluations, to student growth calculations, to all of it is craptacular crap.

It could just be that our students love to sing and dance or run and play more than they want to test. It could be that they love to read more than they want to suffer through the reading passages selected for them on the tests. Whatever the variable, we just have to understand that when the test scores come back, they may or may not tell us anything useful.

And for that, we pay millions.

Try hard, kids. Do your best. Then go outside and play.

  1. drcnebrown
    April 11, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Well said!!


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