Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 20 2013

Test scores aren’t all that matter!

This is a response to Didymath’s “#69: All Aboard the USS Test Scores Don’t Matter,” which he wrote in response to my last post…basically continuing the conversation.

I think both of us are falling into the dangerous trap of arguing the extremes. In many ways, I agree with a lot of what Didymath is saying.

My point is that test scores have a lot of IMPACT because of the graduation requirements, even if they don’t always have a lot of VALUE as a measure of growth. Around here, the only job you can get without a high school diploma is at a gas station (a friend of mine assigned her students the task of finding such a job, and this was pretty much the best paying one they found). They recently changed the requirements so you need a diploma to be a bus driver, and now they have a hard time finding enough bus drivers, showing how much of a problem this is in the area. The law that passed last year states that if you do not pass the state test, you do not get a high school diploma, period. This may change with the changeover to CCSS testing, but as it stands now, my claim that test scores are tied to future income is, I think, valid.

Didymath makes the point that when you look ahead, passing the test doesn’t in and of itself set students up to succeed in college, in the workforce, or as an adult. I totally agree. When I think of what a successful school system would look like, it’s not one where everybody just passes the test! School should be about learning to think. That means learning to analyze, to question, to discuss, to debate, not just to pick the best answer out of four. I want my students to comprehend what they read, yes. But even more than that, I want them to love what they’re reading, laugh at it, compare themselves to the characters, and connect the story to their own lives. I want my students to be able to calculate things, yes. But even more than that, I want them to conceptualize the problem, understand why they algorithms work, and see, use and appreciate math in their everyday lives.

The test measures none of that.

Didymath says:

“As a teacher, I can only offer this: emphasize my relationships with my students and their relationships to each other; cultivate their love for learning; listen to their needs and concerns. If I deliver on those metrics, my student and I can measure success in a way that honors each individual and takes into account where each student started when we were assigned each other.”

I applaud you for this attitude. I also am secretly laughing inside because, though to read our posts side by side you’d never guess it, we have quite similar priorities. I think you can see this from some of my other posts; one of the reasons I hate testing is because it doesn’t show the amazing growth that kids can make.

I had students this year who grew 3 years in reading skills, as measured by the DRA (a leveled reading test administered one-on-one). They essentially went from nonreaders to readers. Furthermore, they enjoyed reading, could name favorite books, and could connect even the somewhat cliche, canned DRA stories to their own lives. To me, this shows they learned how to understand and also connect with a text. This is what success looks like, and I am so incredibly proud of them for all their hard work.

They probably still failed the test.

Does this make them any less successful? Of course not! Should they feel like a failure? No! Am I going to go up to my nine year olds and tell them “You’re in for a world of misery?” (Thanks, Didymath.) Obviously no!

This is what I am struggling with, and why I really appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with someone about this. Here’s the dilemma, as I see it:

1. My vision of success, based on loving learning and enjoying thinking, does not match with that of the state, which is based on passing the test.

2. I do not think my students can achieve the state’s measure of success (i.e. test) without my altering my teaching practices significantly, which means less time for my vision of success.

3. If my students don’t meet my measure of success, I think they will be missing out on an enormously important joy that they deserve to experience just like any child, regardless of their income level or where they were born.

4. If my students don’t meet the state’s measure of success, they don’t get to graduate. This wreaks havoc on the rest of their life.

So what to do? It’s all very well to throw around extremes for the sake of rhetoric and impressive blog posts: Test scores don’t matter! Test scores matter a lot! But when it comes down to the day-to-day teaching, which do you prioritize? Didymath, I think, would say prioritize my vision of success over the test. I would love to do that, because it would honestly be a whole lot more fun. But at the same time, I get this awful feeling in my stomach because I worry that doing that might prepare my students to succeed in an ideal world, but not in the world that they’ve got.

What do you think?

3 Responses

  1. meghank

    I think you have to do what you feel is right. Some people might say you should strike a balance between test prep and sharing great educational experiences with your students.

    For me, the right thing to do is no test prep at all, no stealing time away from sharing great activities or books with my students in order to teach them about how test-makers think.

    That’s the way I was taught. I doubt I would have loved learning or enjoyed any aspect of school if my teachers had spent time on test prep. In the nineties, we took the tests, but the teachers never prepped us for them, and we NEVER took a single practice test. Why can’t it be like that again? Or get rid of the tests altogether.

    I think you ought to read Susan Ohanian, if you haven’t already. She loves teaching literature like you do. She’s been a great example to me of someone who sticks to her principles. Here’s a piece of hers I particularly enjoyed:


  2. mches

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