Test Less. Smile More.
Standardized testing season is upon us. At Kennedy, we are thankfully removed from much of the high-stakes testing requirements imposed by federal and state mandates; however, we are required to give tests to determine points for graduation (which replaced the Ohio Graduation Test, or OGT, for the Class of 2018 and beyond). The Diocese has selected the IOWA assessments- a nationally normed test that allows us to track academic progress in key areas. We also use the ACT college entrance exam. Students receiving state-funded scholarships are required to take the state-mandated tests in grades 3-8 as well.
My history with this high-stakes testing is a bitter one. I was a teacher in a public school, in a tested subject. I had to get all my content taught before the test at the end of April. I had to review, guess what content the state would stress this year, ending with student scores published in the newspaper at the end of it all. I am not a nervous or anxious person by nature....and these tests made me a wreck. I lost sleep. Every lesson I tried to figure out how to teach it so students would pass a test question... sometimes months from that date of learning it. I cut out interesting information to spend time to "drill and kill" items I knew would be on the test. I sacrificed writing skills for test taking skills. Being a tested teacher made me worse at my job. It made me jaded. When I worked with the ESC and did teacher professional development, the story was the same around the county. Teachers are just generally tired of the testing process that is stressful to them and to students and does not ensure student achievement. It is a major reason why I left public education. I felt I wasn't impacting students to prepare them to change the world.
On the other hand, I believe in data-informed decision making. Test results aren't useless. I personally looked at all JFK test results from 2016-17 and will continue to do so as our results return this year. I analyze our strengths and weaknesses as a school. I make copies and highlight relevant data, and every teacher receives a copy of their students' results and my notes for the classes. Teachers break down scores by student to try and understand what is working and what needs work. The key part of this process is that we take this score as just one piece of the puzzle. Our students have so many talents. How they perform one day on one test does not define their worth as a student. I would emphatically say that no staff member at JFK treats any of our students as a score on a test. This is why we are data-informed and not "data-driven." This data is just part of the evidence of student achievement. It is not the entire story.
At the Future of Educational Technology Conference that I attended and presented at in January, keynote speaker Ken Robinson shared insights from his book, Creative Schools. (An amazing read that I am partially through. Really plays to the personal experience I have with high-stakes standardized testing). One of my favorite quotes:
the emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents—the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.
Our ability to give standardized testing a back-seat at Kennedy allows us to focus on things that do produce student results. We decided to become the first district 1:1 with devices because we want to see classrooms where educators teach like Google exists. It's not important to know who the first 4 presidents of the United States are because anyone can access that information in 30 seconds. (Unless you're on Jeopardy someday). It is more valuable to know what did those 4 founding fathers agree on, and disagree on, and who got their way, and how did that shape our nation? We created The Think Lab, an innovative space that allows students to be creative and hone their communication skills through topics they choose and passions they follow. We are building a band room to invest in our commitment to the arts and give our theater productions and music programming their own spaces. We take time in the day to grow spiritually without worrying we may be missing class time for content that is going to appear on a test. We provide opportunities to be servant leaders in the community through our fundraising and volunteerism. We are Kennedy!
If you have questions on how graduation points are calculated or who takes what tests when-feel free to email me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our meaningful testing practices make a big difference to the educational process.