Standardized testing is considered a necessary evil in inner-city schools. Folk will say that the students are at the nucleus of what happens in a school, but the truth is that at an inner-city school, test scores are at the nucleus. Do not let anyone tell you any different. Standardized tests are administered to gauge a student’s basic skills and track their growth during the school year. Unfortunately standardized testing is over utilized in urban and inner-city school districts. There is a state mandated test (i.e. PARCC) that all student take once a year and there are district mandated tests that can be administered multiple times during the year. Administrators assert the importance of the tests to ensure the students are learning, but quite frankly, they burn students out. Also, depending on who you ask, these tests are less about students actually improving and more about (1) preventing schools from getting shut down, (2) keeping overpaid jobs, (3) padding resumes, and (4) looking like a school is doing a good job. If you know students like I know students, then you know many of the them don’t take these tests seriously. We (adults) do a horrible job keeping it 100 with our students, so in turn they choose to not keep it 100 when taking these tests. Many of them fill in the same letter for every answer or play ABCD when filling in bubble sheets. We do ourselves no favors.
In education industry, educators are the service provider serving students and families; students and families are your customers. Forgive me if I sound DeVos-ish but I am speaking from a servant leadership perspective. There is no exchange of knowledge for money in the public school, however you are encouraging (if not selling) lifelong learning. You not only have to teach but you have to sell the importance of reading, writing and learning to your students. Likewise, you must sell standardized testing to students. Disclaimer: I am not a fan of or advocate for standardized testing. I understand the purpose for a state test administered once a year and that’s enough. However, multiple tests is a way of life in urban and inner-city schools and that won’t change in the foreseeable future. So what you are left with is selling the idea of taking these tests to students – and we do a bad job of it. A positive way to do that is to make testing conditions comfortable for students. There are some administrators and teachers who will disagree with doing that, but in order to get children (and adults) to cooperate, you must offer some sort of incentive. Even the most responsible and academically cognizant person can benefit from receiving an incentive or two. As an administrator, offering incentives may help you achieve more accurate test results. It’s not a cure all, but it can certainly help. Here are some things you should do to make your testing week easier.
- Integrate recess/socialization during the day (if a full day) – if you decide to have full day school during any sort of standardized testing, don’t skimp on or eliminate any time for students to socialize and run off some pinned up energy. You know what I call keeping students in the classroom on a day where they’ve taken a standardized test while expecting them all to behave? Hustling backwards.
- Hold gym classes – if maintaining a close to normal school schedule is precious to you, then you should make gym classes mandatory for all grade levels. Exercise and releasing energy is essential to balancing out a student after sitting in front of a computer or paper and pencil for possibly 2 to 3 hours.
- Offer snacks for students held by each teacher; fruit and water – I know we offer breakfast in the morning and lunch in the middle of the day, but students are constantly growing and burn energy constantly. They’re always hungry or thirsty. In the Hoods of America, the corner store aka corner bodega is a heartwarming fixture. However, the “foods” purchased by our students there isn’t always the healthiest. If you can encourage your teachers to offer fruits and water during test taking time (or at the end of each section or during breaks), you just might keep your students minds off of their hunger; maybe, they’ll put their thoughts and attention on the test they are taking… purchase the fruit and water and have baskets in each classroom during testing days.
- Have half day sessions or early dismissal – This may be a no brainer; especially if you plan on stacking test sections together to minimize on the amount of days you have to take the tests. In most states, half a school day constitutes a full school day – for attendance purposes. So why not have students take the tests in the morning and release them at 12:30? I advise you do this specifically when students are taking a state mandated standardized test. While you and your teachers are still in the building, rather than offer a meaningless or ill-prepared PD, give them work time to update grades, complete those jam packed lesson plans you ask for or update their classrooms. That allows you time to sit in your office and… work.
- No classes, no lessons, no homework – if you decide to keep students in the building during the school day, don’t have classes and don’t give any homework. Schedule a field day or a school talent show or movie day or a fundraiser for the older kids like a car wash in the parking lot or a teacher vs student basketball or volleyball game. All work and no play makes an adults life miserable when attempting to get through a week of standardized testing. Again, don’t get caught hustling backwards.
- *Honorable mention* – offer no additional standardized testing i.e. Map testing – I know it is enticing to have multiple standardized tests to see where your students are and all of that, but there are other ways to assess student skills. Try implementing those.
(Unfortunately), standardized testing is unavoidable in urban school. However you can ease the stress and anxiety of students who are taking them (and the adults administering them) by making things a bit more conducive for everyone’s success.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!