Educators are constantly worried about the latest standardized test results for their students. Teachers, principals and district administrators analyze test data to see how students can perform better on quarterly or annual tests. School quality ratings, teacher and principal performance and district ratings are tied to test scores on a local, state and national level. Politicians brag when test scores increase. Then the same politicians scream bloody murder, when test scores decrease. Everyone is plays the assessment game by devising plans to improve teaching and learning so that the test scores will improve.
Teachers attend professional development based on the small group instruction, analyzing data to guide instruction, social-emotional learning and much more. Principals attend district meetings to discuss student and test data. They collaborate with their peers on how to increase test scores. It is the data game. However, the rules of the data game are constantly changing.
Like the students, educators aim for their goal and they play by the rules of the data game. Some pinpoint to a tenth of a percentage point, how much is needed for a school to move to the next level. Some wonder will their school be a level red, yellow or green. Like the children, no one wants to be on the color red! Educators want to be successful and have a feeling of knowing that their students are on the right track. Teachers want to see the students obtain academic skills that will prepare them for the next level. No one wants to see or feel like they are set up for failure.
Well, the data game often feels like a set up for failure. For example, a school district changes the assessment tool every two years. Change in leadership occurs every other year or every few months. Textbook series are dropped because a new set of standards are adopted by the state. New federal laws or mandates are implemented that affect funding and resources. A one size fits all approach to teaching and learning is mandated by a superintendent. So, many things can change the rules of the data game.
What do these rule changes do to schools and classrooms across the nation? For students to learn and flourish, there must be consistency. Give instructional strategies and programs time to work. Stop mandating too many things at one time. Focus on one or two things based on the needs of the students and staff.
Allow creativity to take place in the classrooms. Teachers should not be beholden to mandated textbooks or series. Give teachers and principals autonomy to create a school climate where students have exposure to experiential and project-based learning opportunities. Give teachers space and time to collaborate, communicate and create. Give principals funding and resources, so creativity can take place in their schools.
Let’s stop the numbers game to determine student achievement and school ratings. Annual standardized tests or quarterly assessments should not be the only factors used to determine students’ success. Test data should not be the only factor used to determine if a school remains open or is closed. There are so many other factors involved other than the data game.
So, why not play another game called teaching and learning. It is actually an old game, but no one knows the rules any more. It will involve a whole paradigm shift, but it can be done! So, now let’s give educators the space, time, funding and resources they need to play this old but new game.