When I was teaching, standardized testing was used for promotion to the next grade. It was high stakes for my students, and for me. Today’s accountability is much more rigid than what I dealt with. But the best teachers I know accept the existence of the testing and accountability movement, yet they are not limited by that reality. As Sarah Ehrman, who just finished her first year of teaching, says,
There’s a ton of pressure at our school with test scores; but if you really want better test scores, teachers need to keep doing good teaching. [We need to] establish relationships, establish a classroom environment with routines. All these other things around the actual lesson are just as important as the lesson. The students won’t take it in without other things in place. Test scores may be the ultimate goal, but with students, I’m teaching things they need to learn and the standards happen to be in what I’m teaching. Standards and tests are important, but if I want to be successful and be a good teacher I need to have an environment and build a relationship that allows them to learn well.
It’s important to remember that student growth is never completely measured on a test. Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, agrees:
Achievement is supposed to be a benchmark of where students are so we understand where they are learning and where they are in development. We measure infants in every checkup: Are their heads growing enough? Can we assume they are getting adequate nutrition? It’s like that in schools; we measure whether or not they get adequate nourishment. Are they benefiting from what we are providing or are we doing one size fits all model and leaving lots behind? We are in the business of nourishing children; nourishing their minds, bodies, and social development. Achievement looks at the tunnel of academics only. This means we are not doing the observation necessary to see if a child develops in all aspects. Then one day, you have a bright child who is doing well academically who falls off the planet because no one noticed social problems.
Our job is to help our students be successful in school, but more importantly, it’s about helping them be successful in life. Great teachers define success as more than the test, and they provide multiple opportunities for every student to succeed frequently. They know that success breeds success and that all students can learn. Great teachers also teach their students that attempting something new is valuable, because even if you fail, as long as you learn and grow from the experience, you are not a failure.