Can the Truth About Testing Set Us Free?

As a fifth-grade teacher, I know testing is an important way to find out if our kids are on track. But the results can be painful and can reveal a reality that isn’t so appealing, as the recent PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) results in my home state of Colorado demonstrate. It is true that tests like PARCC are more difficult than previous state assessments, but this is primarily because of the concerted, multi-state effort to redesign teaching standards to reflect what skills students will need to succeed. Instead of sending students into the world unprepared, my colleagues and I are working diligently to increase the quality of teaching that is taking place in classrooms throughout the nation. Lower results can be interpreted in different ways: they can indicate that teachers are getting worse or students are becoming less well-educated. Blaming the tests is an easy solution, but it doesn’t fix anything. Instead, it contributes to the misinformation that’s been dubbed an “ honesty gap.” If students are labeled as proficient on easier tests but they’re not in fact adequately prepared for college or careers, they’re being given false information that will only hurt them in the long run. Based on the recent readiness report by ACT, far too many of our children who aspire to college are not prepared for college coursework. Performance on NAEP scores have also confirmed that when met with rigorous assessments designed to measure critical thinking, analytical and problem solving skills, students struggle to meet the bar of proficiency. Fewer than 40 percent of students nationwide hit that bar this year in reading and math, but long-term trends show steady progress over time. Does this mean that there’s a problem with the tests? On the contrary, the new scale provides an opportunity to set measurable goals for improvement. When the school-level PARCC results are released later this year, they will offer huge benefits to my fellow teachers and me. As a fifth-grade teacher, I look forward to being able use them to measure the effectiveness of my instruction, to find ways to improve my teaching to support my students. The reports will help me understand overall student performance, including whether students are actually mastering the standards or still need more time and support to be proficient, compare my class’s performance to that of others around the country, and better understand how to make qualitative adjustments to my lessons to actually bring more rigorous learning to each and every one of my students. What the tests and reports won’t do, is to limit my options as a teacher. The tests won’t dictate my teaching style or materials, but instead will reflect how well my students are understanding rich and varied texts as well as how effective they are at analyzing and solving real world math scenarios, all in service of preparing them for life after high school. The tests will measure important skills and the reports will give me credible information in a timely way to assist me in bringing my students a top-notch educational experience. Students are just as bright as they’ve always been, but seeing how they measure up against standards that are rigorous and designed to lead them to success in postsecondary learning will help teachers make good decisions that will be profitable for everyone involved. All we have to do is stay the course and trust in the results: They give us guidance for the future.
Jessica is a fifth-grade teacher and professional development facilitator in the Weld RE-1 school district, which serves rural students in Platteville, Gilcrest and LaSalle, Colorado. Jessica develops comprehensive teacher training programs around Common Core State Standards for the National Math and Science Initiative and consults with local districts and teachers on how to effectively implement ...

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