Spring is a time when most educators start to feel a little panic. In the education world, springtime is test-taking time. It's the time when most standardized tests take place. Whether they are state mandated, national, or school specific, tests are a normal part of the education world. And educators are often more nervous during these tests than the students are. Some of that pressure is what we put on ourselves, and often much of the pressure comes from outside.
Beyond nerves, many of us feel angry or disillusioned. We think, "The
stakes are too high", "The results are skewed", "Too much class time is
taken up", and "The test results don't tell the whole story". Depending
on your district or state, the tests may be more or less frustrating and
flawed. I get that.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret that
most administrators know: there is no such thing as a perfect test. Even the ones you write yourself aren't perfect. And the standardized tests come with their own set of challenges. When
I was a teacher, I quickly realized that our Arizona state-wide test
was seriously flawed (it has since been replaced by an even more
questionable test). It did not cover material that I felt was relevant
to my class, and I found some questions to be confusing or poorly
worded. How could I possibly hope for good results based on a flawed
But then I decided that even a flawed test could
help me be a better teacher. I looked at my results each year and came
up with a game plan for how I would improve the next year, even though
my scores were initially pretty good. I could improve from pretty good
to great, and then great to outstanding. There were setbacks and years
when I had difficult students, but what teacher doesn't have those? My
goal was not perfection. My goal was improvement.
In the school I now lead, teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves at test time. We are a highly competitive district, and some teachers, comparing their scores to others, end up feeling they don't measure up. After a recent round of testing, one of my teachers said the following. "I allow my scores to inform my instruction in order to improve my teaching - NOT define me." I feel like this sums up the whole point of testing. As educators, we should take the results of testing, diagnose areas for improvement, and look for ways to improve our instruction in order to better educate our students.
However, we often do the exact opposite. We look at our scores and equate that to our value as a teacher. Our students average a 75% on an exam, so I am 75% of a good teacher. Instead of looking at the data and figuring out how we can enhance our instruction, we beat ourselves up when the results are less than what we hope for.
Now, as an administrator, I don't look for perfect results. I look for progress. I look for teachers who take their test results and come up with strategies to gain ground. Not miracles, just successes.
So as we go into the end of the school year, let's make a conscious effort to allow our test data to inform us in how we can improve. Let's look at the results of each test and determine the best way to better reach individual students and classes as a whole. And let's stop placing a self-value on our teaching based on an exam, but rather look at improvements that we can make year after year.