Testing season: Our students are more than a score

IMG_4180For many teachers and leaders, we just had a change of seasons. I’m not talking about spring. Some would say it’s now “testing season.”

However, we need to maintain focus on learning, not testing. Let me illustrate…

Example one: Test Focus
The class is doing test vocabulary prep. The teacher tells the students this is an important skill for the Smarter Balaced Assessment (SBA) state test. The task involves students completing a worksheet on determining the meaning of vocabulary words because on the test they might see a word they don’t know or they’ll be asked to define a word.

Example one: Learning focus
This could have been a powerful learning opportunity in any season with a target like, “I can use a variety of strategies to infer the meaning of a word.” This target requires knowledge, selection, and application of strategies. It is transferable. Success criteria might include using word origins/parts to break the word apart and using context clues to see if it made sense. The task could involve reading a student-selected authentic text or a rigorous article, and when students encounter a word they don’t know (vs all students given the same word), students place a sticky note near that word and word solve, making their thinking visible on that sticky note so the teacher can see strategies used.

The misconception with making this word-work activity “test prep” is it conveys that this is a skill needed for the SBA then it can be forgotten. Using word origins and context clues are actually essential literacy skills. Note the transferability of the learning target above. Of course the teacher could ask kids, “When might you use these strategies?” Among student-generated ideas (including when reading informational or technical materials) could be on assessments. But the learning is for literacy, not for the SBA.

Our students are more than a score.

Example two: Test focus
The class is having a conversation about learning they want to engage in after the SBA. The kids shout out things like “creative writing,” “book projects,” “poetry”…

Example two: Learning focus
Think about the learning opportunities in those student-generated ideas for analyzing creative pieces; practicing powerful literary strategies like imagery and various organizational structures; analyzing literary elements such as theme, tone, and plot; delving into word choice, metaphors… All important literacy concepts for learning and life…and it just-so-happens – for the SBA.

Our students are more than a score.

Example three: Test focus
A school has a pep assembly to kick off testing. It gives special treats to students like Smarties candy, Smart Water, and special pencils with motivational messages. It sends communication home regarding the importance of attendance, sleep, and breakfast on testing days.

Example three: Learning focus
What if we elevated learning rather than testing? What if we had a pep assembly to celebrate growth? What if we handed out special treats to set up a new complex, project-based learning opportunity? What if we emphasized healthy habits needed to maximize thinking for our inquiry-based STEM projects?

Our students are more than a score.

My thoughts and an article:
The message in each of these examples is that we need to pause rich, rigorous, authentic learning for shallow, isolated skills test prep. Then once testing is over, real learning can resume. Also, learning up to this point is ultimately for the test. What a missed opportunity! Quality teaching and learning IS quality test prep.

McTigh states, “I contend that the best way to raise test scores over the long haul is to: 1) teach the key concepts and processes contained in standards (the content that is purportedly tested) in rich and engaging ways for deep learning; 2) collect evidence of student understanding of that content via more authentic local assessments; and 3) regularly review student work on authentic tasks in Professional Learning Communities.”

-Does your staff know what you believe about test prep?
-As leaders, what learning or testing culture are we setting with our own language and focus?
-How are we showing the kind of learning we value through what we celebrate and confront?
-How are we engaging in informal feedback conversations daily to steer toward our vision of quality learning?

Here’s a link to a GREAT article! It’s worth the read! https://blog.newsela.com/2017/03/13/jay-mctighe-beware-of-the-test-prep-trap/

There is a change of seasons! It’s now spring and it’s learning season in the Orting School District! Every classroom, every student, everyday.

Our students are more than a score.

#OrtingReady #RedefiningReady