I had the opportunity last week to participate in an interim study on Oklahoma school assessments hosted by state Sen. John Ford and state Rep. Ann Coody. I thank them and the other lawmakers in the room for the time they spent over the course of two days to hear from experts in every area of assessments. Presenters included classroom teachers, school administrators, higher education representatives, major testing companies such as ACT and SAT, and technology experts.
Many people in the room spoke with a common voice that teachers are tired of feeling like they must teach to the test. I agree. Teachers deserve the right to be creative and innovative in their classrooms, to think outside of the box, to get their students to think and grow in ways that might not match a bubble on a multiple choice exam.
That’s why I’m excited about the new Oklahoma College and Career Ready Assessments being planned for students for the 2014-15 school year. They move students away from the fill-in-the-bubble, rote memorization tests that now exist. Instead, these performance-based exams include strategies to promote critical thinking and problem solving as well as practical application of securely held foundational knowledge.
Teachers should not feel they have to work merely to get students through the test. The assessments that are given should instead work for the teacher. Assessments are needed to evaluate what students know and to show how they apply their knowledge. A math teacher needs to know more than whether a child got a right answer on a test, but how the answer was achieved. An English teacher needs to know more than whether a child has memorized a list of characters from a story, but instead that the child is understanding the text and using thinking skills to craft an essay based on the passage read.
Teachers need the data that good assessments yield. They need to know which students are struggling, in what areas and why. We can’t wait until the end of a child’s senior year and give them one assessment to make sure they are ready for the future. We must use judiciously placed assessments along the way to help guide instruction. These consist of state and federal assessments as well as benchmark assessments used at the discretion of school districts.
Craig McVAy, Superintendent of El Reno Public Schools, spoke to the group about a strategy employed in his district in which the progress of each of the district’s students is discussed each Friday. By doing this, teachers can tell which students are on the right track and which students need a different instructional approach.
This is fantastic work. I know many other districts take a similar approach, and I applaud them.
The bottom line is we must help prepare our students for their future, whether that includes college, workforce training or a path that leads straight to a career. The data we glean from the right assessments can help us achieve this.