In May, my students took the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) along with most every other 3rd-8th, and 11th grade student in Washington. This was my second year with SBA since my district piloted the test last year and earlier this year I wrote about what I had learned from the pilot experience. It’s now been over a month since my students finished testing, and I’ve been able to reflect on our overall SBA experience. Here are six things I’m taking away from this year:
- “Testing does not have to be torture.” My principal made this statement at our pre-testing, rally-type assembly. During our testing window, schedules stayed the same. We still went to specialists, we had regular lunch and recess, we took brain breaks, and we had an extra recess at the end of each testing day. During testing I used GoNoodle, an online brain break tool that I had not previously used with my students. My students loved the Zumba dance breaks. The students still got to be kids throughout the day, and they worked really hard when it was time to return to testing.
- Students learned to encourage others. As a fourth grade team, we took it upon ourselves to adopt a third grade classroom. Each class made an encouraging poster for a third-grade class letting them know we believed in them, and that they were already super stars. The third graders appreciated knowing they were supported. When it was our turn to test, the third graders took time to make posters and encourage the fourth graders. It was good for our students to realize that in the end we were not testing by ourselves. We were all playing on the same team, and we were rooting for each other to simply do our best.
- Testing is stressful for teachers. Try as I might to tell myself this is “a test and only a test” it was impossible to avoid a heightened stress level. My school is a Title 1 school and we are highly diverse. Looking at the demographics one might predict we have lower test scores. However, our K-6 staff is amazing. They have helped students reach their academic goals year after year. Students have done well on previous state tests and banners hang in our multi-purpose room acknowledging our achievements. I knew going in that the expectations for the number of students meeting standard were lower for the SBA than MSP, but I also worried about how my students, families, and staff would feel if we didn’t meet our own expectations.
- Allow me to go a bit farther on this topic for a moment – If I’m feeling this stress as a seventh year teacher, I can’t imagine what a first year teacher must feel. (I also can’t imagine what the stress must be like for teachers in states where state tests are directly tied to their evaluations.) As educators talk about the tests, analyze results, and prepare for next year, we need to be careful how we frame our conversations with each other. We need to have constructive conversations focused on helping students grow. We also need to be sure that teachers early in their careers have the support they need via mentors, coaches, and colleagues so they don’t feel alone in their classrooms, during testing, or when results come in.
- The kids are amazing. I have known this all year, but they proved it once again during testing. Although I was worried and stressed, I worked really hard to keep this from my students. And, for the most part, my students were not worried by the test. We had talked about how this was their chance to show what they know, and if there were things they didn’t know yet, we would take that information and make a plan. No one in my class cried during the test, and there were far fewer questions from the students during the test than I expected. I did have one student “freeze” during the English Language Arts Performance Task. When the generic “you can do this!” cheerleading was clearly not working, we had a heart to heart about not worrying about perfection and trusting in yourself. He took longer than my other students to finish this portion, but he did finish and we celebrated when he was done.
- I like the Online Reporting System. Test scores are taking longer to come in than expected, and I still don’t have scores for all of my students. However, I like that I can log into the system and see my students’ results myself. I’m still learning how to interpret some of the information that is available, but I am hopeful that we can use the data to identify specific needs, focus our professional development, and work on improving our craft in meaningful ways.
- The test has potential. Overall, I think the SBA stayed true to its goal of assessing students’ knowledge and their progress toward mastering the Common Core State Standards, but is it perfect? No. This is just the first year of the test and I am guessing there will be some revisions to questions or types of questions in the coming years. Personally, the biggest change I would like to see is the time required to complete the test. Despite efforts to break up our testing day, there’s no question the test is lengthy. I question the appropriateness of a multi-day, multi-hour test for students, especially elementary students. There must be a way to shorten the test, break it up, or to only test certain sections each year.
In the end, our experience with the SBA this year went smoothly. When students finished, most said it wasn’t as bad as they were expecting and they felt good about what they had done. I look forward to analyzing results and using the data to continue learning with my colleagues how to further prepare our students for life outside of our classrooms.
Now that time has passed since the test, what are your thoughts about the overall test experience for you and your students?
Corelaborate blogger Tom White shared his reflections earlier, you can read his post here.
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