Testing has always held importance in schools for many reasons including determination of funding and ranking among schools (influencing real estate values and local government funding). Tests have also been a tried and true method of assessing current student knowledge of material (note the inclusion of the word ‘current’ is intentional as students may not retain for a length of time information acquired to do well on a test). Understanding the relevance of testing is made more complicated by conflicted research on it’s value. As best practices in education continually grow and change we find some things including testing remain largely the same. One of the areas of growth in education is a greater understanding of the interdependence between academic, social, psychological, athletic successes and social emotional and diversity. As we begin to intentionally incorporate social emotional learning in our core curriculum we will have to question the role of tests in our schools.
As I see it, tests are akin to snapshots and like all snapshots; a test is informed by factors including preparation, understanding, rest, nourishment and confidence. Gone is the era when people sat for portraits for a lengthy time as we now take ‘selfies’, edit them to suit our desires and retake them as necessary yet the reliance upon testing has not changed as quickly as our ability to capture a moment in a photograph.
We are again upon the point in the year when students are taking tests for exams and admission to schools therefore creating opportunities for conversations around testing value. Students, teachers, schools and parents may benefit from a shared understanding that a test is a moment in, not the documentary of, a child's life. Shifting to this kind of thinking will invariably illicit questions of how to do we impress upon students to do their best without placing overemphasis on a test or even if our school assumes a broadened view on testing value, the schools to which students apply may not. These are complicated questions but for me the answers are in the simple word "balance". Students should be supported to be mindful of care of themselves and being in a moment so they achieve best results. At the same time, students should not feel their individual value, their success or their definition of self are linked to a test. A shift toward this mindset is achievable when the environment is created by strong administrative leadership and informed by student voice.
Administrators would need to engage in partnership with parents, faculty and students to define the value of tests within their school’s mission; provide professional development for teachers to develop new assessment methodologies and create a shared statement to accompany school materials outlining the documentaries rather than snapshots the school is creating on their students. By taking such an approach, administrators will better their student academic experience thus enhancing the messaging of the school, strengthen teacher skill sets and create an evolving view of the school.