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How Teachers Can Help Reform Testing

Alison Crowley

As teachers have voiced in this forum, policies surrounding the number of assessments and the quality of assessments being used in schools need a serious makeover. In a recent article NEA Today, Colorado teacher Jessica Keigan is quote as saying, "The best model for setting and implementing policy is one where those who spend the most time in direct contact with students have the most say." Now that we have begun the conversations in this forum, what can we do as teachers to influence change?

A few years ago, my district mandated that high school students take the math MAP test three times a year as a measure of student growth. Teachers soon realized that students' scores weren't changing that much even though we knew that students had made progress during the year. It became evident that most of the content on the MAP test didn't match up with what we were required to teach in high school.

Before long, several math teachers had an open dialogue with district administrators about the MAP test. Our concerns were identical to the ones outlined by the Garfield High School teachers. However, the response was quite different. Once the administrators heard what we had to say—and specifically how the MAP test was not, in our view, helping improve student achievement—they agreed that teachers should have the option whether or not to administer the test and that the MAP scores would no longer be used as a school or district-wide measure of student progress.

I know that I am lucky to work in a district that encourages teacher-administrator collaboration like this. But regardless of the situation, as teachers we have a responsibility to speak up about what is happening in our classrooms—because we know firsthand how testing affects students. Here are some tips from my own experiences getting this process started:

Start with a dialogue. Ask your colleagues, students, and parents what they think about the current testing situation at your school or in your state. After you've heard their opinions, ask them what they would like to see changed. Which assessments are helpful in measuring progress? Which ones aren't?

Do your homework. Which assessments are given to which groups of students? How many times a year? Do teachers and parents have access to test scores? Do teachers have access to scoring rubrics and released items? Who is writing and scoring the assessments? Does the content on the assessment correlate to the curriculum?

Make sure you voice is heard. Set up a meeting with district or state administrators. Be prepared to offer plausible solutions. Make sure that you have your students and their best interests in the forefront of your mind. Stakeholders want to increase student achievement—so framing your discussion around that creates common ground.

Be patient and don't give up. Reform doesn't happen overnight, and it takes time to build momentum. Offer to serve on committees or provide feedback on proposed assessments. Continue to reach out to anyone who will listen to your concerns about testing, and remember that teachers are among the nation's most trusted professionals.

Here's hoping that this conversation leads to action and that eventually teachers will have the most say in creating assessment systems that work for our students.

Alison Crowley is a National Board-certified teacher in Lexington, Ky., where she teaches Algebra 2 and AP Calculus.

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