Tips for Teachers in the Middle of Testing Season
Standardized testing has been a mainstay of the educational landscape for decades. Every spring teachers, students and administrators would set aside time to administer state-required tests on a variety of subjects, and then use the results the following year to assist students, measure school success and update the school’s overall approach to learning.
This year has been different.
With the increase in expectations amid the continuing integration of the Common Core State Standards, the new computer-based testing format and the contentious political climate around the nation, standardized tests and their role in American school have never been discussed so deeply and passionately.
So what is the classroom teacher, stuck in the middle of all this rhetoric, to do? Try to keep these points in mind:
You’re in charge of your performance
Don’t forget that of the many factors that affect success on standardized tests, the one you can control the most is your teaching performance — regardless of the attitude of your students, their support at home or the role of the school administration. Will good teaching be the sole decider in your students’ success? No, but it will play a major role.
Focus on what you can influence
I’ve always found that when issues are swirling and people are choosing sides, the best thing to do is to focus on what you can control. For a teacher, that means honing the quality of your instruction in the classroom, understanding of the curriculum and designing lessons that help students the most.
Try not to spend time spinning in circles over something that’s either beyond your control or hasn’t yet been firmly established. I agree with colleagues of mine who encourage their teachers to look at the first year of the new standardized testing format as an extended field test.
Set a constructive, professional tone
Regardless of your feelings on the quality or necessity of testing, remember to keep a professional tone when discussing the tests. Your primary responsibility is to ensure the learning of your students, so don’t get caught up criticizing a test that has yet to be administered.
That doesn’t mean living under a self-imposed gag order; just be judicious in your comments about the testing. Never drag children into the middle of these debates.
Deconstruct the test
There is nothing wrong with spending time teaching your children the best way to take the test. Breaking the test down into smaller pieces, practicing the computer-based interface and highlighting the important parts of the test are all reasonable uses of your time.
Focusing too greatly on the test, shutting down instruction in other areas due to the upcoming tests, or sending home worksheet after worksheet isn’t a good use of your time. It’s OK to analyze, just don’t obsess.
Recognize the benefits
One point that many supporters of standardized tests bring up during these discussions is that formal “sit-down” tests are a part of life — most professions require formal tests of some sort, and the testing will become more frequent as jobs become more highly skilled and demanding. Putting the standardized-testing discussion in that context supports the idea of taking the test.
Right-size your outlook
It’s important to keep a proper perspective on the true long-term impact of the standardized test on your career and the lives of your students. From what I have experienced, while the test plays a larger role in both the child’s school evaluation and the teacher’s overall performance, it is not a major player in the overall school experience of the child.
As a colleague of mine says, “The test will come and the test will go. Let’s focus on children.”