This a guest post from Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder, Superintendent of the Voorheesville Central School District. It was originally published on the Superintendent’s page of the district’s website.
As we enter the final quarter of the school year, we are also entering the testing marathon. Over the next ten weeks students will be taking NYS exams in ELA, Math, and Science, in grades three through eight. Older students will be taking AP exams and Regents exams. In addition to these high stakes tests, students at all levels will be taking post-tests in every subject area to fulfill the Student Learning Objectives required to demonstrate growth for the purposes of teacher evaluation.
I am posting this in order to articulate as clearly as I can that this is not sound practice for school children—it is politically driven, not educationally driven. It is an inordinate time commitment when classroom time is so precious. A much wiser thinker than I once said, “Children do not get heavier because you weigh them.” I think that sage comment applies in this era of test mania. Children do not become smarter because you test them. Children become smarter by their daily interactions with content, curriculum, and caring educators.
We know that there are so many factors that affect our students’ performance at any given moment. If you do an internet search on how to improve standardized test scores, you will note that there are thousands of tips—rarely any of them related to teaching and learning. Everything from eating bananas, to taking a nap, to listening to classical music, to cooler room temperatures, to petting your puppy seems to be included in tips to improve scores. Those of us who have been around the block a few times will tell you that a youngster’s outcomes on any test can be affected by whether the sun is shining, or whether a child had a decent breakfast, or an argument on the bus. I read a letter from a teacher in another district last June who lamented that her students who were sitting for the 9:00 a.m. Regents English exam had been out at a rock concert the night before and some had not slept more than a couple of hours. Sleep is associated with better outcomes! Again, these deviations in outcomes are related to factors extrinsic to the interactions in the classroom.
We will, of course, be administering all of these required exams because we are good soldiers, but I feel compelled to also take on the role of the “Loyal Opposition.” I have worked in this field for so long and with so many children (each as unique as their thumbprints) that I simply cannot pretend that compliance with the requirements is good educational practice for the youngsters in my care. I have spoken my piece in every forum available to me. I ask parents and teachers to put these long Spring days of testing in perspective. Not one bubble sheet will define the capacity of our children to become what they choose for themselves in the future.
All this being said, please know that teachers assess all the time. We deal with a dynamic population. Whether I assess a child’s grasp of one to one correspondence by observing them counting out manipulatives in the primary grades, or whether I assess an older student’s comprehension of complex text by interacting with them verbally or in writing, it is my job as an educator to assess and address understanding and deficits. Assessment is rigorous and complex—it is too important to simply be reduced to a bubble sheet. Let’s confirm to the students that teaching and learning are about time and space. We will work hard on our end to support the students in their diligent work of compliance with this quarter’s expectations—and take some time to watch Spring unfold.