- location:Texas Schools
Commentary and probing questions related to school data and accountability
Reuters reported today that “Parents protest surge in standardized testing” with descriptions of a rising tide of resistance to testing in multiple states including Texas. Complaints include the pressure placed on students, especially the young ones, by high-stakes testing, the amount of time devoted to testing, and the cost. Amid the often heated debate, it is easy to overlook the fact that most of the complaints have little to do with the tests. Instead, adults create them with the way we react to testing and its consequences.
We hold the pep rallies and blanket the school’s halls with signs imploring students to do their best on test day. We give mini practice tests every 3 weeks and devote hours of classroom time to teaching and practicing test-taking strategies.
So why do administrators and teachers create stress for kids and divert valuable classroom time? In my experience there is one simple answer – fear.
Unfortunately, this fear is quite rational. The Texas and federal accountability systems both impose significant sanctions for schools that fail to meet standards. Ideally, principals and teachers in struggling schools could spend several years developing a positive culture, teaching to high standards, and filling holes in students’ prior knowledge. They can do all these things, but if the results don’t come fast, the principal and much of the staff won’t be around long. Even the most confident principals get scared when they know their improvements may not show up in the test scores right away.
The other very rational fear that impacts schools is the “death by a single cell” phenomenon. Both state and federal accountability systems look not only at overall student performance but also at the performance of various student groups. When student data is analyzed by student group it is common to have relatively small groups where individual students have a large impact. Even in schools where overall scores are excellent, evaluations based on small groups create great uncertainty.
So what can we do differently?
First, we need accountability systems that alleviate these fears while still holding schools and districts to high standards. Hopefully, the new state system under development will meet this criterion.
Second, we all need to have a little more faith in our teachers and their ability to teach the curriculum. If some teachers are not meeting the mark, we need to grow them. We do not need to throw a band-aid on the whole situation with test prep.
Is what I’m suggesting easier said than done? Absolutely.
Is it the right thing to do? You bet.
What can you do as a principal to show your teachers that you believe in their ability to teach the curriculum?