Standardized testing is as much a part of education as is teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. Some people are under the illusion that we can teach with assessing, or that we can assess without having a baseline measure for what we are assessing, but they are wrong. Standardized testing is an important tool for measuring students’ understanding and their abilities to perform specific skills.
But it is just one of many important tools. Just as it is wrong to think one can teach without testing, it is also wrong to think that you can teach using only one measure. As a teacher, I use several different tools to measure my students’ progress. Some of these tools include summative assessments (such as chapter/unit tests), formative assessments (such as quick-writes to check a specific skill or understanding), projects that cover a spectrum of concepts, and informal observations from conversations with students and examinations of class- or homework. I find all of these to be much more useful to me on a day-to-day basis that any of the standardized tests that are administered once a year.
However, once a year they are administered, and so it is my responsibility to prepare my class for them. One of the things I do to prepare my students for the tests is to just teach them each day. After all, the tests cover what they are expected to know by the end of fourth grade. (Never mind the fact that the tests are administered in March and school doesn’t finish until the end of May… I am sure that is taken into account by the folks who do the test writing… I hope…)
Another way to prepare them for the tests started today. My grade-level partner and I had copies of the practice exams made for our students to use as study guides. I administered the practice science exam this morning. The students had 45 minutes to answer 48 multiple-choice questions. Before they started testing, I talked about the testing expectations: no talking, focusing on the work, skipping a question they don’t know and then coming back to it at the end and making an best guess if still unsure, and taking time.
Everyone finished within the time given and they did a great job staying focused and not talking until everyone had completed the test. After grading all of them, I will return them to the students who can make corrections and use the sample test as a study guide. Later, we’ll do the practice tests for math and reading. We have four weeks until we take the ISAT tests for real, but I have promised my class that we aren’t going to do just test prep for the next month.
After all, it is just one test!