For this blog post, I asked three teachers/Boston College colleagues to respond to this question posed by Cathy Rubin of the Huffington Post:
How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?
Here are their responses:
From Luke Reynolds, a middle school English teacher:
Waiting for Knowledge…or Pursuing It?
There’s a great scene in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot when Estragon says to Vladimir, “Let’s go.” And Vladimir replies to his buddy, “Yes, let’s go.” Beckett then gives us the final stage direction: “They do not move.”
Usually, talking to my 7th graders about the English portion of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test is a bit like that scene. There is not a whole lot of movement when it comes to deep learning, knowledge, and reflection.
So this year—my sixth as a public school teacher—I decided to not really talk about the test very much.
I figured that if my students were learning to become more effective writers, stronger readers, and deeper thinkers, that would show up on any kind of assessment they were forced to take.
But with three days to go until the test, I noticed something: a bunch of my students began to freak out.
From Chris Bacon (@chriskbacon), a former HS English teacher:
High Stakes Testing and Critical Thinking: Is Balance Possible?
Can teachers balance high stakes test prep with critical thinking?
Let me first say that I don’t have a magical answer; anyone who says he does is trying to sell something. Let me also say that, for this post, I’m going to set aside the (utterly imperative) question of whether or not schools should engage in high stakes testing, and instead focus on how teachers—within our current reality—can balance test prep alongside deep, critical learning.
Like many, I’ve struggled with this balance, particularly while teaching in South Korea where “high stakes” takes on a whole new meaning: Though Korea boasts some of the world’s highest test scores, this comes at the expense of untenable student stress, staggering rates of teen suicide, and an education system largely geared toward cramming for tests. Fortunately, my employer understood that critical thinking can actually boost test scores, and we engaged students in collaborative learning, tackling real world issues through interactive “critical thinking projects.” Students worked hard, improved their English, and actually had some fun in the process.
And oh yeah: They passed exams, often with flying colors.
From Kelly Meehan, a Kindergarten Anchor Teacher in Massachusetts and a second year graduate student at Boston College in the Curriculum and Instruction program.
How can teaching and learning simultaneously occur with constant testing and assessment?
Pauline Hawkins describes the current state of education perfectly in her resignation letter, “The emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students…That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right answers”, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed to be a proper education.” Hawkins’ outrage and sadness is felt by many teachers and brings up the question: how can teaching and learning simultaneously occur with constant testing and assessment? The truthful answer is that lesson plans directly reflect the material being covered on these high stakes tests and the learning that takes place is actually just conditioning.