I have mixed feelings about standardized testing. I love the accountability it brings for teachers, students and parents. I hate the anxiety it creates in students, the class time that is wasted on learning how to answer standardized test questions, and the focus on procedural learning instead of problem solving.
In my 4th year of teaching I took a bold move and decided that from the beginning of the year I would not spend any time specifically preparing for our standardized math test in the Spring, and I told my students that “the test” wasn’t what we were working for. We were going to learn “real” math. We focused on solving open ended problems that tied in all of the math standards I needed to teach for the year. I spent an extra 5-7 hours each week developing new curriculum for our initiative. The other teachers in my grade level were on board with this crazy plan and implemented my lessons in their classes as well. I was secretly worried about our test scores, but after the results were in our grade level’s math scores had increased so dramatically that the district office asked us to share what we were doing with other teachers in the district.
I thought I knew testing, but then I moved to Texas. Testing is a whole different game here. While I was in California, the testing accountability system focused on student growth from year to year. In Texas, testing was focused on passing a minimum standard until recently when some student growth measures were added. Our state still has work to do in this area in my opinion. I was quickly consumed by the testing system here and hesitant to try to make changes in the teaching/testing culture here. My goal in the next year is to begin developing open ended problem solving lessons that align to our New TEKS to truly elevate what we are doing in the classroom with students.
Accountability measures are necessary, but high pressure standardized tests do create fear in educators and can detour us from the quality instruction we know will benefit students. We often settle for less critical thinking and more procedural memorization to ensure test scores will meet district and state expectations. We need to be willing to take risks. If we focus on developing thinkers, students will be more than prepared for “The Test”.