I don’t think that I have ever met an educator or student who loves high stakes testing. Regardless, many will return to school post-spring break with a date in mind…the day of the test. For months, struggling kids have been pulled from electives for reinforcement in efforts to help them pass because passing can be the difference between moving the the next grade or even graduating. That collective score can be the difference between a school remaining open or closed. I have friends working in schools that are at that level where the state takes over and it’s not fun. The pressure of testing is real.
While the stakes are high, we do have the power to refrain from ridiculousness. Below are a couple of terrible mistakes of high stakes test prep that I have unfortunate first hand experience with.
1. Mandated Tutorials for Everyone
My nephew, a 3rd grader, is in the grade where testing determines his advancement to 4th grade. I’ve written on many occasions about the test prep environment of his school. He’s even required to attend mandatory after school tutorials along with every other student in his grade level, regardless of ability. He’s even been told that if he does not attend, he will not be allowed to go on the 3rd grade field trip and will stay at school to do more worksheets instead. Their hour long after school tutorials are nothing more than istation and think through math, two computer based free state provided resources. To add insult to injury, he is also pulled twice a week to go do more prep in another room on the days that he does not have after school tutoring.
(I literally just learned about the mandated in-school tutoring and to say that I am mad is an understatement. Every student doesn’t go to in -school tutoring and he doesn’t need it. Why is he being pulled??? The only reason that I can even think of is that he fits a targeted sub-group and that annoys the heck out of me even more!!!)
2. Blended Learning Gone Bad
Last year, we had an idea to have students create an entire site of resources by standard. In after school enrichment, they were developing videos, interactive content and even a blog where they were sharing their learning. We called it ibluemath.com and kids were excited about it. It was their baby and unfortunately was cut short due to an administrative mandate. In efforts to reach every student, our idea was not only scratched but changed so much that it was a completely different project.
Basically, the student created resource library that we were building was hijacked to be a teacher generated resource for all students to view during the school day. Students were free to “learn” based on their needed standard with an assessment being their ticket to mastery. To be clear, this was every student…all 700+ of them watching videos instead of learning through active experiences. While this method did allow students to have access to instruction that they were not getting in their classroom, it was painful to watch because it went against everything that I know about student learning. This one still hurts big time and I’ve disabled the site since.
3. See it in Class but Do it During Enrichment
I literally watched the most amazing inquiry based science lesson that I’ve ever seen take place on a Saturday during enrichment. I asked the teacher if kids were able to do this in class and her response was that they were not. She went on to add that they had no time and that’s how they got more students to come to school on a Saturday. I could not believe my ears and all that I kept thinking was how much those students could have been impacted if they were allowed to experience the lesson during class in the first place. I talked to a few other teachers at other schools and the conversations were no different. They planned “enrichment time” to be hands-on, active and technology filled but chose to give direct instruction in class only. Even typing this sounds ridiculous! Why would you do this????
It’s After Spring Break…Now What
First of all, don’t use any of the above ideas that I’ve listed and if those were your plans, please rethink them. As you consider how you might review, I would suggest that you make it as student driven as possible. Turn the teaching over to students and let them do it. This is especially effective if students are researching to teach in areas of weakness. Let them create a board game of their own problems and play. You’d be surprised how well they incorporate real experiences into their process. You don’t have to do “test formatted” questions. Students will have a better chance at success the more that they know and are able to think. Don’t discount the power of that.
Whatever you do, keep it active and give kids options that suit their individual needs. If the learning isn’t student driven, they aren’t learning…period.