This Is Why State Testing Matters

We’ve arrived at that point at the end of the school year where everyone and everything is moving at a frenetic pace, and if you didn’t know any better, you might think there was some sort of natural disaster about to nail your local public school.

That’s right, it’s testing time.

Thousands of Kentucky students are gearing up to take their end-of-the-year tests before going home for the summer, like a statewide rite of passage. And predictably, not everyone is a huge fan of testing.

It was just the other day that a Kentucky teacher told me: “I spend this part of the year in a constant state of panic.” I sort of chuckled, but this teacher was serious.

“My test scores have always been solid, but I always end up a nervous wreck anyway. I just to want to keep them that way.”

Students aren’t always big fans either. I’ve asked a few of my students before, and their answers were all pretty similar: “We don’t want to spend all year getting ready for a test. We can tell the difference between teachers who teach to the test and teachers who just love teaching kids.”

So what’s the point?

Testing Matters, But We Shouldn’t Freak Out

While schools should offer remarkable opportunities to help students grow in non-academic ways, their first and foremost priority is to ensure that kids are learning. Without testing, it’s really tough to figure out which schools are successful and which ones need improvement.

Testing helps with that. Somewhere along the way, however, the purpose of accountability has gotten twisted.

Testing basically just gives a “grade” to schools and districts to let them know how effective they’ve been at helping students learn — like a thermometer of sorts, just to check how healthy our schools are.

Lots of people have an annual checkup with their doctor. But you don’t see them freaking out, do you?

Testing is really just to give teachers, principals, and district administrators the information that they need to figure out what’s working in their schools and what needs to be improved. It’s like a hotel or restaurant rating: At the end of the day, the results say more about the services being provided than the customers receiving those services.

The Focus Should Be On Good Teaching and Learning

I got some of the best advice of my career from Kentucky’s former Education Commissioner, Dr. Stephen Pruitt: “Good instruction is the best test prep.”

We don’t need to be worried about state testing to the point where we’re just teaching to the test. Good teaching should be centered on the needs and interests of our students, not just the content that we know will be on the test.

Teaching to the test isn’t good teaching. Glossing over quality, engaging instruction that can lead our kids to deeper learning about the world around them in the name of “test prep” doesn’t promote good learning.

Yet, there are still too many people who are complicit in this manner of thinking. It’s not a testing problem, it’s a perception problem. We’ve done this to ourselves.

If you’re a teacher or administrator who is truly demanding success and maintaining high expectations for your students, you don’t need to teach to the test.

Schools should be a place of joy, of expression, and of purpose. Holding schools accountable doesn’t have to mean stripping that away from our students.

If anything, accountability should help guide us toward that vision. And it will, if we’ll let it.


Photo by TechYourFuture, CC-Licensed.

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