Thursday, April 3, 2014

If There Were No Tests in April, What Would Instruction Look Like in March?

Testing season is here.  I loathe this annual occasion; not because I am anti-testing, but because my philosophy differs from some of the practices I see.

Teachers have been in “test review” mode for several weeks.  Intensity and anxiety abound.  Fact reviews, lengthy word list handouts, multiple choice practice questions … these are the norm in so many classrooms in the weeks leading up to the CRCT.  

While I want our students to shine on their tests, I also harbor deep concern that the weeks spent in review are detrimental to real learning.  Sure, teachers mean well; the review sessions are intended to help students remember all that they’ve learned during the year so they can perform well on the tests.  

But this is what I’d really like to know:

If there were no tests in April, what would instruction look like in March? 

I hope teachers would continue teaching. I hope they would introduce new material and delve deeper into their content.  I hope they would teach for understanding more than for recall, and they would have students write more than bubble.

Are we missing out on moving our students forward with deeper learning by drilling the facts that we’ve already taught them?  How could “review” be structured to give as good as or better results than the current practices do?

Please don’t misunderstand: I am not against testing.  I believe in accountability.  I believe that standardized tests provide a useful snapshot of students’ academic performance.  

I am bothered by the popularity that test preparation has in school.  When I began teaching third grade, test prep consisted of teaching students how to bubble their answer document.  That took a few minutes a day for a few days.  We didn’t do the kind of stop-and-review that occurs in many classrooms now.  I believe the all-encompassing test review mindset is a result of the high stakes attached to the tests, and that is the real problem of the tests – testing stops instruction.

When review replaces instruction for weeks, we’ve lost sight of the true goal of education: learning.

I wish that teachers felt confident enough in their instruction throughout the year to avoid March Madness in their quest to squelch their April Anxiety.

How can we move teachers toward confident, competent instruction that rises above the necessity of lengthy test review? 

Perhaps developing a deeper understanding of standards, focusing consistently on standards based instruction, and assessing student proficiency on each standard could pave a clearer path. Standards based assessment throughout the year would yield useful information about student mastery and provide specific content indicators against which students can improve.

Our current system of grading does not hold students fully accountable for mastering the content.  They get a pass on material when they score in the 60s or 70s, or they get high marks for turning in homework or getting a parent signature that will increase their quarterly average to the passing range.  Follow-up instruction to bring the student to mastery rarely occurs.

So that means, in March students get a dose of fact review from frantic teachers anxious to post acceptable test scores.

Are you  a March Madness – April Anxiety crammer? Or do you have another approach to testing season?

How can teachers avoid March Madness?  How can teachers better approach April Anxiety?  How much and what kind of test prep is acceptable?

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