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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Teach More, Test Less

Take a look at your child's teachers, are they stressed? Are they always busy completing forms, evaluation documents and testing schedules? Do you know how much time a teacher spends on NON-instructional paperwork as opposed to actual teaching time? I do, it is too much.

My own children take a DRP, DRA, CMT, soon to be SBAC, an NWEA assessment for reading and math that is given two to three times during a school year AND they give it in the library! Other students have no or limited to access to the library during this two to four week period! That is ridiculous. Then there are the school-based monthly diagnostics called "snapshots", "dipsticks" or common assessments, if they're in high school they have the CTE assessments, PSATs, SATs, ACTs, CAPT soon to be SBAC. This is not an exhaustive list. How many hours of instruction, discussion, interaction, analysis and sanity are lost as teachers and administrators plan, execute and analyze all of this information? How Many? How much money is spent by local school districts to have all of these testing companies deliver, administer and score our children's tests?(By the way, do you know who scores your children's tests?) How much money is spent by districts to purchase computers so that we can administer the new SBACs? I certainly have alternative ideas on how to better spend those funds.

Assessing students is necessary. It provides valuable diagnostic information for the teacher. But do our children need five different assessments to tell the teachers that a student is a proficient or struggling reader? As an experience teacher, I can comfortably say no.

You cannot accurately and reliably evaluate a school, teacher or administrator using instruments designed to provide the achievement or growth levels of children. There are so many other factors that go into the qualities of a good teacher or a good school.

As a child, I attended school in a urban/suburban district. It was a racially and economically mixed district with a significant free and reduced lunch population.

My first grade teacher was a hard working, dedicated and warm woman who took the time to help me learn to read, write and behave in class. She was an excellent teacher, not because I tested well in her classroom, but because she was knowledgeable and encouraging.

My fourth grade teacher was strict, disciplined, and had a no-nonsense approach to teaching. Her lessons were challenging and required students to focus and follow along. It was in her class where I learned how to study. It was also when I finally grasped multiplication and division. To this day I still recall my math facts using her unique approach for teaching. She was an excellent teacher, not because I tested well in her classroom, but because she had a deep understanding of pedagogy and differentiation.

My sixth grade teacher rarely smiled but was a warm person. I knew she liked us. She seldom praised students for high grades, but often pointed out exceptional effort and perseverance displayed by her pupils. She always picked the most entertaining books for read-alouds. She managed to keep 25 eleven and twelve-year-old children enthralled in post-recess stories. She was an excellent teacher, not because I tested well in her classroom, but because she understood children and the psychology of how they learn. She rewarded effort. If you worked hard, you reaped the benefits for extra recess or a movie.

My eighth grade history teacher wove humor and hands-on activities into his lessons. We often worked on mini projects or experiments in his class that demonstrated what life was like in early America. He was funny but required respectful obedience. He praised effort and took the time to explain concepts to kids who struggled. He was an excellent teacher, not because I tested well in his class, but because he had a deep understanding of a rich curriculum and he ensured that all of the students learned, regardless of the pace.

My sophomore English teacher sat on a desk at the front of the classroom. We sat at desks in neat rows, but we discussed literature as if there was no furniture. Mrs. M. selected outstanding books for us to read. Most of the class time was spent reading round-robin style. We were not dependable enough to read outside of school. So instead we read, discussed, analyzed and wrote about each book during class time. Her course was a catalyst for my voracious need to read. I loved the books we read and discussed. I loved that I loved to read. She was an excellent teacher, not because I tested well in her class, but because she modified the delivery of her instruction to meet the unique needs of my class. She had a deep knowledge of the stories she taught and she LOVED literature. She had a sublime passion for each story and we connected with them. It was infectious.

Each teacher had a profound influence on my development. I was not aware of it at the time, but they were great teachers. They were great because they dedicated much of their non-instructional time to learn about their subject. They planned lessons, activities and prepared the classroom for the next day. They were great teachers because they had time to think, reflect, plan and to TEACH.

Not all teachers are great teachers. There are some who would best serve the public by choosing a different profession. But there are many outstanding teachers who are slowly being smothered by the overwhelming amount of unnecessary information, and redundant redundant redundancies of student data.

Teach more, test less.