I have long been a proponent of state and national testing for students. Students move from place to place whether within a town, state, or across the nation. Because of this fluidity of life, it is critical that all children everywhere have been taught what they need to know to be successful at each grade level regardless of where they live and where they go to school. If we want to “even the playing field” of education, national testing offers the feedback tools to accomplish this. With data gained by through testing results, educators and system evaluators can study what has been learned where, by whom, and how, and then arrive with decisions to help all schools improve so that every student achieves. For example, if one school exhibits tremendous strength in math, the strategies and techniques used can be listed and analyzed, categorized into best practices and shared with other schools throughout the district. The same is true with reading and science.
Having worked in professional development for a number of years I was privy to some interesting district data. As I studied children over a span of time, usually three to five years, I could often recognize where the child had gone to school and who their teacher or teachers most likely had been. Granted we are a fairly small district with three elementaries, a middle school, a junior high and one high school and so my study was limited, however the results were amazing. Because of my role I visited many classrooms observing students and teachers in action. One particularly strong fifth grade science teacher comes to mind to better explain what I learned. Every science lesson in her classroom contained essential components: true, scientific vocabulary, clear explanations, adequate time for questions and exploration, and class interaction that included hypotheses and predictions culminating in hands-on experiments. To say the least, their science education was dedicated and thorough.
In March these students participated in statewide Criterion Referenced Tests. Obtaining an alphabetical list of students with their science scores, sort of a “blind” study, I could scan the list and then accurately identify who had been a student in Mrs. B’s room by the high test score in science. Her scores were high overall but my focus was science. Yes, there were other students in other classes with great scores similar to Mrs. B’s, but an especially important feature included that no student in her classroom had a low score. All were passing or exemplary.
I might have concluded that this was just a handy coincidence until I reviewed sixth grade scores. Selecting the top ten, guess what? All had been in Mrs. B’s class the previous year. In seventh grade Mrs. B’s students were eight of the top ten and in eighth grade seven. A definite pattern emerged that students who had had science with the specific and pure instruction of Mrs. B did well not only in her classroom but their success continued. The “drop-off” in top ten in later grades can be accounted to new students moving in and some of the students of Mrs. B having less capable teachers in later grades. The talents described can be easily shared and then incorporated into other classrooms to increase opportunities for every child.
And that is why I deem state and national testing vital and important. The data provides us with excellent information that could and should be used to determine future training and instruction. Nothing in Mrs. B’s classroom was radical or not replicable. Everything was straight forward, following state expectations for learning, clear, and easily transferable. Any teacher could visit with, observe students in action, or ask questions and then utilize feedback in his or her classroom. A strange factor about teaching, however, is that sometimes teachers jealously guard their talents (not true of Mrs B) and more likely, teachers struggle to identify and admit shortcomings and so a less than thorough education with less than adequate techniques continues.
So while many complain about state and national testing, the data generated from these has the power to transform teaching. All that is needed is an evaluator – much of which computers can complete – to identify strengths and areas of concern of students, link them to teachers and their mode of operation, study and compare student learning over time, and then determine the best form of professional development for the school and district. Often the expert is right there on hand so no enormous fees are required or extensive time and money spent on travel. Instead school leaders can glean from the best and the finest – local, talented educators.