Redefining Student Success
When Rachel Tomlinson, headteacher of a primary school in Lancashire, England, sent out a letter with her Year 6 students’ test results, she never expected all the attention it would generate. In it, she tells her students that they are far more than just a score on an exam. Her powerful words to her students resonated with teachers, students, and parents from across the world and the story has gone viral. There were even calls for her to take over for the outgoing Minister of Education in the UK.
Assessments are an important part of any educational system. They provide educators with information about student learning and achievement. Unfortunately, we often let them overwhelm other aspects of education. When this happens, the assessment becomes the goal of education. Nearly everyone recognizes that this is a terrible idea. The visceral reaction we all have to news of schools cutting arts and music classes really shows that we, as a society, know that an educational system that only teaches English and mathematics is wrong. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to have students learn what is supposed to be on the test without making the test the sole goal of education.
Students are people too
It is important for the educational system to acknowledge that students are real people. One major point Tomlinson made in her letter is that some students are multilingual, others are English Learners, and yet others are in difficult situations that adversely affect their school lives. These are real problems that students actually have to live with. They also have interests and activities outside of school. Acknowledging that students are not mindless cogs in the educational machine makes a difference to students and parents.
It should be noted that there is a difference between acknowledging these problems and turning them into excuses. These problems are not excuses for poor performance; they are simply realities that students have to deal with in their lives. An acknowledgement that their lives are more than just test scores in the eyes of the school and its teachers is humanizing.
Student learning outside traditional academic classes
A student’s job is to learn and develop into a well-rounded member of society. Remembering this is a huge part of supporting all students. Students need the opportunity to pursue their own interests. This does not mean that they cannot be learning important academic skills outside traditional academic classes. The CCSS supplements their English standards with a set of literacy and writing standards for use in history, science, and technical subjects. The inclusion of technical subjects means that students can be developing their literacy and writing skills in classes that are traditionally outside of what are considered core academic classes. Art, music, shop classes, engineering, and others can still play an important role in developing academic skills, all while developing students’ wider interests and skills.
Preparing for the test
There are also things that a school can and should do beyond simply preparing students for the material on the test. Nobody genuinely enjoys the standardized testing process. “You mean I get to color in the 304th tiny circle this week? And in a lovely drab gray, no less! Fancy!” Acknowledging that it is a rather unpleasant experience and trying to make it a little less so can go a long way. There are a whole host of programs and ideas that have been implemented in schools around the country. These include things like making sure that students eat before the test and limiting the amount of time that students test on a given day. These are small but important steps that a school can take to make the testing process itself just a little less unpleasant.