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Keeping the Conversation on Testing Going

Sarah Henchey

"As teacher leaders, how would we answer the question, 'What recommendations do you have for policymakers regarding testing?'"

During our first round of posts, Ali Crowley posed the above question. The question both encourages us to synthesize our recommendations and to proactively put them forth. To end the cyclical pattern of standardized testing, it's time to insert our voices, share our experiences, and advocate for change.

With this in mind, I believe there are a few key take-aways from this dialogue:

Work alongside of teacher leaders. Policymakers and those entrusted with creating and mandating standardized tests must seek the leadership of individuals embedded in the classroom. As contributors to this discussion have noted, "all tests are not created equal". And teachers are uniquely situated to assess the value of tests and make recommendations on how to use them strategically to promote student learning.

Recognize the limitations of standardized data. While various types of data are helpful in determining patterns and measuring student growth, none of them exists in isolation. "Snapshot" assessments, as many standardized tests tend to be, often serve a single purpose—providing insight based on a narrow set of factors. As Rebecca Schmidt notes, standardized testing does serve a certain function within our current educational system. However, it's essential we not confuse the role of standardized tests with the data gathered on a moment by moment basis in the classroom. And it's imperative that we respect the daily assessment and responsive teaching occurring within classrooms by requiring only the most reliable and valid assessments.

Value instructional time. Ryan Kinser's itemized testing schedule sheds light on the greatest casualty within the standardized testing movement—real learning time. Students deserve extended, authentic experiences to engage with content and their peers. Creating the conditions for that kind of learning are difficult to create amid constant testing.

Acknowledge that not all learning can be measured in a standardized way. In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough asserts that noncognitive skills, including perseverance and conscientiousness, are pivotal to supporting the long-term success of students. Teachers naturally nurture these skills by fostering cultures of innovation and inquiry and encouraging risk-taking and creativity. Yet, like many essential elements of learning, these skills are not reflected on standardized tests. Their value, however, cannot be diminished.

As Elizabeth Duffey points out, situations are rarely simple. And the issue of standardized testing is no exception.

The Seattle MAP boycott has provided an opening for a larger conversation around standardized testing. Which points from the above list will you share with colleagues, administrators, parents, and policymakers? What would you add to the list?

Sarah Henchey is a teacher-in-residence at the Center for Teaching Quality, spending this year leading and supporting Common Core implementation. A National Board-certified teacher, she has taught middle school for seven years in North Carolina's Orange County school district.

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