When I picked my daughter up from school that day, her usual, gleeful “Hi Mommy” did not enter the car. Instead I was greeted by a loud silence, a bowed head and a slammed car door.
When I asked what was wrong, she grudgingly shared that she had taken a test, but she didn’t get a chance to finish it. She was disappointed in herself, and I had to ponder my response. I wanted to tell her that the test was just a test and it didn’t mean anything, but the teacher in me knew that was not true.
My daughter had been randomly selected to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as our “nation’s report card.”
I’m sure my daughter wasn’t the only one sweating her performance on the test. According to the most recent results, just 40 percent of fourth graders were at or above the “proficient” level in math this year. (That’s actually down from 42 percent in 2013.) In reading, 36 percent of fourth graders were at or above the proficient level.
Applying Results in the Classroom
While the dip in numbers is disappointing after years of gains, I am less concerned with the scores themselves than about how assessments are being used overall.
I taught for more than 10 years in Chicago Public Schools and I am a National Board Certified teacher, so I value quality assessments. After all, it was through assessments that I charted my own successes and failures as a practitioner. It was through assessments that I saw which skills I nailed and which skills I failed.
Assessments also created a historical record of my students’ learning and painted a more detailed canvas of the children that sat in front of me. And, importantly, assessments allowed me to show each student’s progress to parents, administrators and above all, the students themselves.
Yet, I am torn about how we sometimes use test results. As a parent, I don’t think of my daughter as simply a number that fluctuates up and down. When I think of her in the realm of education, I think about what her future will hold.
I wonder if the hours I spend with her reviewing homework and reinforcing lessons learned in the classroom will translate to a scholarly student who is prepared for the real world. I hope, like 65 percent of other parents, that assessments will identify where she needs help so that her teachers can steer her in the right direction.
The multitude of assessments has been a heavy weight on the shoulders of students, educators and families for a while now. I am happy that the excessiveness of assessments is finally drawing national attention—but the next question is, what do we do now?
Giving Purpose to the Tests
I see the value of NAEP and other standardized assessments that give school systems and policymakers the information they need to improve. However, in the midst of this number maze, we must remember that behind each score is a son, a daughter and a family who all grapple to understand what all of this really means.
As both an educator and a mom, I am fully aware that learning begins at home. This is why information like test scores shouldn’t stop at the policymaker, or even at the teacher’s desk.
We must equip families with knowledge about their own child’s proficiency and areas for growth. The scores by themselves will never be sufficient. Families must know the tools to use to help their children challenge themselves and move towards mastery of content.
The more we make assessments purposeful for individual students, the more successful all of the partners who work together in a child’s education will be.