I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially).
As a school-based speech pathologist, I rely on evaluation instruments including formal assessments to guide my work. Tests give me the ability to compare a student’s speech and language skills to their same-age peers. It provides me with critical data that determines whether or not a student qualifies for school-based speech therapy and if a student does qualify, I write the student’s IEP (individual education plan) goals and treatment plan for each child based upon what the assessment revealed. There is a time for testing and a time for instruction.
Sometimes when I enter a classroom to see or remove a student for speech, I often find the student taking a test. Usually it’s not a run-of-the-mill weekly spelling test or some kind of curriculum-based test. Most of the time I find that students are taking some kind of standardized test. There are the district-wide reading and math tests (I’m not going to list them because I’m not sure I’m allowed to) and, god forbid, the student is a second language learner because then they have to take additional tests. If you think it’s just the kids in 3rd grade and above who take the statewide assessments, think again. I see kindergarten and first graders taking lots of tests, too. Some parts of the tests can take one hour to administer to students. When a teacher has 30+ first graders in one classroom, then we’re talking weeks and weeks of missed instruction while the teacher takes each student aside to test him/her.
When I read that No Child Left Behind is basically being scrapped in several states, I rejoiced. But what did No Child Left Behind really do? Why did we put students and teachers through all that? I applaud efforts to make education better and testing needs to be a part of what happens in the classroom. We need to be data-driven. However, we have gone beyond logic with the increase in student testing that I see at work.
What I would like to see is a measure of student engagement. I believe that when a student is engaged in the material, they are able to connect with what they are learning in a bigger, meaningful way. Many teachers are successful at getting students to respond to classwork. One of my colleagues who is fantastic at creating dialogue and engagement with her classroom is just a few doors down from me at one of my schools. She has been teaching for probably close to 20 years and is incredibly skillful in the classroom. What makes her a great teacher is that she understands the age group, she is incredibly organized and focused on the curriculum, and the students know she cares deeply about each and every one of them. She is the kind of person who was meant to teach for a living. In fact, most of the teachers that I know are talented and dynamic educators — I like to associate with people I admire and can learn from. I have found that even the “best” school has a couple “bad” teachers and even the “worst” school has some amazing teachers. The ones who are making a difference in the lives of young people are the ones who are able to engage the students in the work — and that’s how we boost student achievement.