Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Assessments to Remember

As I write this blog, the Standards of Learning testing window has just commenced. Everyone has put in long hours to assist our students in achieving at the highest possible levels. However, we intuitively know that a single measurement will never define the worth of a child, teacher, school, or school division. To be clear, I am not implying that accountability is unnecessary. In fact, I believe that we all need to be held accountable, and testing has its place.  It simply should never be the “be all, end all” of education.

Recently, I was reminded that we rarely remember scores on SOLs, or any tests for that matter. In fact, I do not recall a single numeric score on a quiz, a test, an exam, or even a teacher licensure assessment that I have taken.  While this may not be terribly surprising, I admit that I have no trouble at all remembering that Cal Ripken Jr.’s lifetime batting average was .276, or that the Spanish-American War took place in 1898 during the McKinley administration.  I love numbers, dates, and trivia, but I don’t remember test scores, ever.

Test scores aside, I want to share a couple of examples of what I do remember about my education.  I remember learning our states and capitals in 5th grade.  Rather than a simple 100 question test with 50 states and 50 capitals, my teacher (Mrs. Scott) allowed us to pick a partner (that’s right, we actually got to pick our own partner) and make an information booth about our assigned state.  Then, we held a “state fair” in which all of the other 5th grade classes participated.  My friend and I had the good fortune of being assigned Virginia.  We lived in Virginia, so we knew everything there was to know, or so we thought.  Over the next few weeks, we wanted our information booth to be the best, so I found out more about my home state than I had ever known previously.  I’m sure there was a traditional states and capitals test at some point, but I don’t remember if I correctly identified Montpelier as the capital of Vermont.  However, I do remember the collaboration, the research, and the end product we produced on that project.

During my 11th grade year, I remember an American History teacher bringing in a discarded butcher’s cut of meat.  He then proceeded to saw through it with a rusty hacksaw before proclaiming, “And that’s what medical procedures were like on a Civil War battlefield!”  Yes, it’s a gruesome example, but it made a lasting impression.  I don’t remember what I earned on my Civil War test that year.  I do, however, remember that I decided to become a U.S. History teacher in large part because of his passion for teaching. 

One final example I recall occurred in my 10th grade English class.  To my surprise, my teacher told me that my writing had potential.  It was the first time I can remember someone ever complimenting my work in this regard, and it motivated me to write more.  To this day, it still inspires me, and I haven’t stopped.

Traditional assessments have their place.  They give us data points that can help us assess both progress and needs.  They are not, however, the only game in town.  As we wind down this year, let us remember that ten years from now (probably more like 10 weeks from now), our students will not remember their score on a standardized test.  They will remember engaging lessons, being empowered, relative hands-on experiences, and teachers who believed in them.  While it is natural to count the few days remaining to a much deserved summer break, let us all commit to using the time we have remaining in the most impactful way possible.  Your students will remember it.

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