I am fortunate to teach in a phenomenal school. One colleague has remarked that we are ‘nitwit free’; something I think is true and shockingly rare. My own children will attend my school because I believe strongly in the high level of instruction there.
Our administration supports the staff completely, listens to us, and is behind us all the way. The principals go to bat for us rather than require us to jump through hoops that seem unimportant in the grand scheme of teaching our students. The school’s focus is the kids and what is best for them. That is first and foremost always.
Standardized testing does not really fall into the ‘what’s best for kids’ category. But, in public schools today, it is a fact of life. At my school we work to prepare students for these tests while also attempting to minimize the impact they have on our instruction. In our discussions of long-term plans for our school standardized tests are a piece but not the complete focus. As a firm believer that there are better ways to spend our time with the students I am grateful for this.
Recently our administration surprised the staff (all classroom teachers and specialists from kindergarten through fifth grade) with a breakfast catered by the high school’s culinary program and classroom coverage for the first hour of the school day. That’s a great way to start a Friday! However, I didn’t enjoy it the way one would have expected because it was done to celebrate the fact that we had made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
I’m not against celebrating AYP, especially as we have not made it at times in the past. My concern is that having such an elaborate celebration emphasizes and gives significant weight to the standardized tests. It says, “This is the most important thing we do.” I don’t think that is true and I don’t think my administration thinks so either.
We don’t do anything like this for other things we could celebrate. We have increased the number of students qualifying for gifted services significantly in recent years by focusing more on higher level thinking skills. We could analyze our Developmental Reading Assessment scores to determine the improvement our students are making as readers. We could compare our suspension rates with other elementary schools in our district (I expect we would look quite good). All of these things are easy to do, just like looking at standardized test scores. I don’t mean to suggest that we need a party or a pat on the back for all of these achievements. I just don’t want us to become a school that is solely focused on standardized test scores. We’re too good for that. And our students deserve our best.