Test time: Why are we doing this?

I’m looking over my daily plans and outlining where our next steps should be today.  And I remember.  We can’t continue our 4th quarter review of writing conventions during that block.  We have to take the practice state test.

Ask a third grader what they think about conventions of writing and you won’t get an enthusiastic response.  But ask them if they’d rather review the basics of capitalization or take an awkward state test (the results of which neither they, nor their teacher will see this year); They will take the rules of proper nouns 10/10 times.

Why are we doing this?  In a school year unlike any other, when articles come out every week lamenting learning loss and gaps from pandemic issues, why are we taking 3 weeks to prepare and take state assessments? 

A cost-benefit analysis is in order.  Here’s what it costs me in time: 

  • 5 hours, preparing and familiarizing students with the test and the tools and review 
  • 6 days where the test takes center stage 

When a test takes center stage for a 9 year old, the rest of the day is NOT business as usual.  

What does it cost me in curriculum pacing?  I’d estimate it may cost us a Chapter in math; it’s making our math practices shallower while we make room for the test.  It’s costing us the richness of literacy experiences (discussions and application) which are traded for surface-level practices instead.  

In this unstable year, there is another cost: Trust.  These students have come to trust their teacher.  They trust their teacher to: 

  • Offer them non-scripted and personal encouragement during a test
  • Teach lessons and give assessments that have a strong and clear purpose

This test is a breach of trust.  We will try to mitigate this breach.  We’ve worked all year on our classroom culture and spent 3 weeks preparing students for these moments.  Most students make it through unscathed.  But I worry about those who do not.  

The test costs us instructional time and trust. The benefits, especially in this uncertain year, are unclear. Why are we doing this?

I will give the test and we will move on; We will overcome this challenge.  That’s what we do.