Balancing Assessments: A Teacher’s Perspective

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, my colleagues and I have the honor of speaking with thousands of educators, parents, and students across the country about their greatest hopes for education and what’s working well for them or not. Just as I have struggled with the amount of testing in my own classroom, we invariably hear about the amount of instructional time and energy devoted to testing.

Don’t get me wrong. As a teacher, I know that assessing learning is a critical part of our on-going work. However, as the President outlined in October, assessments must be worth taking and of high quality; designed to enhance teaching and learning; and give a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing.

In a rush to improve and document one measure of student progress, well-meaning people have layered on more and more tests and put too much instructional focus on test scores rather than teaching and learning. The burden of this falls on our students.

The day I knew that I wanted to help bring our testing situation into better balance was when a ten year old student stood in front of me sobbing that despite lots of hard work, she was sure she had failed a high stakes assessment. She could not catch her breath to express her fear at what would happen to her. As I dried her tears, I knew that I did not want to stand by and be a part of a system that made any child feel that all that mattered was a number on what I knew was a low-quality test.

This past Tuesday, Acting Secretary John King released a video announcing new guidance to help states identify and eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing. This guidance shares how federal money may be used to help reduce testing and bring testing back into balance for teachers and students.

The guidance outlines numerous ways funds can be used by States and districts to collaborate with teachers, administrators, family members and students to audit assessments; improve the use of the data; increase the transparency and timeliness of results; and to improve the quality of the tests our students take. As I work with the Department’s Teach to Lead initiative, I’ll note that this seems like a particularly ripe opportunity to call on our schools’ many talented teacher leaders to help improve tests.

We are at a tremendous moment in education to be able to step back in our states to put the balance back in assessment with the help of Federal resources. All of our voices need to be part of the discussion. Our students are counting on us.

JoLisa Hoover is a 4th grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary School in Leander Independent School District near Austin, Texas and a 2015 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

3 Comments

  1. I believe we have all had a moment with a student who looks at us in the same way. I had a similar experience last year as my class took the CAASPP test. During the testing, I had one student who broke down and felt paralyzed to finish. She was an exceptional student and always gave her best effort in class, in discussions, and on assessments. The test, probably for the first time, made her feel less than confident in herself as a student, despite her ability to prove herself each day in class. This had a deep affect on me and made we question the validity of the test and what its lasting effects may be on students. At the same time, it made me more determined than ever to equip my students with experiences that will help them on the statewide tests.

    I question the means by which we are testing students on standardized tests. Assessments are a necessary part of the classroom. Especially when the assessments are ongoing and inform the teacher of where students are performing. In this way, assessments are guiding teachers to make changes in instruction to meet the needs of their students. However, the statewide testing is not as informative. By the time the teacher receives the results of the test, those students have now moved on. It still can be used to analyze areas of improvement in instruction for the teacher, but I question whether the amount of time being spent in the classroom to prepare for the test is worth the loss of instructional time that could be otherwise be used to improve student achievement.

  2. My concern is that the state departments of education will be taking money that has gone to districts to directly impact student learning. In Massachusetts a number of districts are seeing consistent decreases in their allocations from the state office. Does it make sense to encourage the use of federal funds for researching assessment as opposed to providing direct services to students in need?

  3. We as teachers test the student to learn what knowledge and skills they have retained from our instructions. My question is “Do we balance this testing with what we learn from them in the making of their own inquiries about life problems, discussing them on a global scale not just their own classroom, forming group projects to resolve them
    on aspects that they can contribute and be evaluated by their own peers as to their own initiative in learning beyond what has been taught?
    In doing so, we might be also capable of evaluating the wisdom of the child as he becomes more educated rather than solely his smartness in having listened to us. Perhaps the real imbalance in education lies in our expectation for the child to always listen to us which can truly be redressed by taking time to listen to them.

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