Are We Doing Testing Wrong?

If your school is anything like mine, you’re about to enter Testing Season. We come back from Spring Break, get reorganized and start gearing up for the SBAs. We review important material and have our students take practice tests on their computers. We teach test-taking strategies and emphasize the importance of sleep, diet and attendance.

Then it’s on to May, when the actual testing takes place. We rearrange the schedules, organize the technology and the tech support team and review proctoring guidelines. And we generally freak out as if our reputation is on the line. Because it sort of is.

When June arrives we relax. Maybe too much. The kids get the sense that the main event is over and they act like it. The teachers loosen up a little and roll out the “Fun Projects.” Or they start teaching stuff like science, social studies and art. I’ve actually seen School Improvement Plans that specify holding off on the science units until after the tests. Seriously.

But what if we didn’t have to go through all this? What if we could teach all the way through June and not have to go through all this nonsense?

Here’s what we do: We test in the fall. Early; like the second week of school.

First of all, we could actually use the data throughout the year. As it is now, we give our students a bunch of pretests in the fall so we know who we’re dealing with. Why not use the SBA instead? After all, with the CCSS, our assessments and curriculum are aligned (or should be) and the results come quickly enough that we could access the most useful data possible at the time when it’s most useful.

Furthermore, the testing would be more accurate. Teachers are human. We want our kids to do well, for their sake as well as ours, and sometimes we help more than we should. Or we prepare them for what we think they’re going to need right when they need it, without a thought for the long-term. But with fall testing, we’re testing only the students, not ourselves. Plus, it comes at a time when we haven’t bonded with our students, which would make it easier for us to be more objective, and ultimately, more fair.

And finally, our school year would be effectively longer. We would teach the standards all the way through the last day. There would be no “Garbage Time.” Not only that, we would focus on long-term retention; teaching our students as if we wanted them to remember it forever. Which is actually what we do want.

So yeah; I think we’re doing testing wrong. We should be doing it in the fall when we could use the data, produce more accurate data, and use the rest of the year – all of it – to focus on deep learning.

3 thoughts on “Are We Doing Testing Wrong?

  1. Jan Kragen

    I think that’s a brilliant idea. For one, we already do pretesting in the fall to find out where students are. After all, we can’t rely on spring SBA test scores because we want current data (after the dreaded summer slump).

    Second, kids know the SBA test scores don’t impact their grades, so it’s hard to make them believe they “count.” If we give the tests at the beginning of the year, we can tell them, “Show me what you already know so I won’t bore you by spending tons of time teaching you those things. The more you show me you already know, the more quickly we can move into new and more interesting stuff!” I think they would be much more motivated to do well.

    Third, teachers could start to differentiate instruction for their whole class from year to year. For example, a teacher might say, “This year I can move quickly through these concepts in math so I can spend extra time and go deeper into those. Weird, because with my class last year they needed the exact opposite!”

  2. Hope Teague-Bowling

    Interesting idea! I could also see a solution would be to actually look at the Spring data in the Fall. I would love to see meaningful PD developed around using my new students’ testing data to set help me develop upcoming units.

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