The first time I received an email from a parent that said, “I was looking at the test scores of 4th graders last year and I want you to explain why we can trust you with our son,” my heart dropped. This parent was asking me to defend the test scores of 3 classes of fourth graders, none of which her son was enrolled in. She was using the combined test scores of my colleagues and me to judge my quality as a teacher.
Did she have a right to ask me this question? Absolutely. A parent must be their child’s greatest advocate. Families have the right to know what instructional practices are in place to help their students succeed. I am honored to be entrusted with the most important person in these parents’ lives for 6 hours each day. The families deserve nothing less than confidence that I will scaffold their child’s learning only to the greatest caliber.
Why did I worry about responding to her? The test scores weren’t “bad”. She wasn’t implying that I’m an ineffective teacher. She was simply proactively informing me that she expected her son to pass the MSP and looking for a plan of action. She wanted to know that I was an effective teacher and this one test was her indicator.
Families care about test scores and have the right too. Teachers do need to be held accountable for providing high-quality learning. However, my worth as a teacher cannot be determined by looking at one measure. The problem is we track data about everything, but might only share that ONE number with families.
My reality, much like yours, is when Common Core is fully implemented my students will be assessed using Smarter Balanced. By spring of 2015, the MSP will be completely replaced by Smarter Balanced in reading, writing, and math. In many cases, students will be taking this new assessment this spring. However, given that this is a pilot year, test scores will not be provided to teachers, parents or administrators. The full timeline is available here: http://www.k12.wa.us/smarter/
While I continue to have high hopes for myself and my students, I am fully prepared to see OSPI report out that my grade level, school, district, and state had a decline in standards-based test scores. This isn’t inevitable, promised, or even guaranteed. In fact, I’m going to do what I can to counteract this prediction. However, the research is showing this pattern in other states.
There are several reasons for an expected decline in test scores.
1) I am new to teaching these standards. I compare this to bowling. While one might be a good bowler, when competing at a new alley, wherein the conditions of the lane are unknown, the bowler may take some time to “warm up.” It won’t take long. The bowler will figure it out and will throw those consistent, expected strikes in no time.
2) The students are unfamiliar with the new standards. The kids are capable of the rigor expected, with time. At some point in every student’s career, they jump from grade A where the instruction was guided by EALRs to grade B where the instruction is guided by CCSS. A child performing at or above grade level may find themselves at a different level of competency with the new expectations. Increased rigor is one of the most notable changes that will come with CCSS. Practice tests showing what is expected of students can be found here: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/sample-items-and-performance-tasks/
3) Systems outside of the classroom are still playing the game of logistics. It will take time to align curriculum, set up interventions, provide funding, accommodate the technology demands, and make the changes needed for success.
Just like all of the other teachers I work with, I’ve been building my “Common Core tool box.” I read about the standards non-stop. I spend my weekends looking for resources. I team up with colleagues to create new material. I plan my little heart out. When the first Smarter Balanced test scores are released in 2015, I hope I can be proud.
Educators need to continue to work hard, but I think we need to take a second job. We need to find ways to get the word out to families, students, lawmakers, and each other that a decline in test scores can be expected with the on take of a new set of more rigorous standards. After all, there is more than one measure of success of a teacher.
What things are happening in your building or district to help parents understand the implications of taking on a new standardized test?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.