November 2013 Column

 TESTING is at the forefront of any educational conversation dealing with improving schools these days. Parents are voicing their concerns over the stress testing causes their children. Teachers are also concerned about the use of student tests as part of the new evaluation system. And students are just tired of being tested. Period.
  
  One reason student testing has become so prevalent is that the United States does not fare well when compared to other countries. Finland typically ranks in the top two when comparing standardized tests such as the PISA (
Program for International Student Assessment).  According to the Huffington Post, the few tests Finland students take are low stakes. Assessments are used as a tool for professional development and to help teachers gauge student growth, never for accountability. It should also be noted that Finnish demographics differ from America.  Finland is ethnically homogenous, with 92 percent of their population Finnish and 5 percent Swedish.
 
 As I consider the testing schedule in Hobbs Municipal Schools, my mission is to reduce the number of tests students take while remaining in compliance with state guidelines.  Professionally I believe there are tremendous benefits in assessing students. If we wish to know the level of mastery at the end of a course or school year, an established assessment is necessary. I also believe progress should be incrementally monitored throughout the year. Frequent testing allows the teacher to reteach, provide intervention or move forward depending upon the results. HMS has chosen to administer short-cycle assessments every seven weeks. The culmination for the fourth assessment is the state-mandated Standardized Based Assessment (SBA) upon which schools and teachers are rated. We need to strike a balance between assessing and teaching. There currenlty is a concern among some teachers and parents that we test so much, we are taking away from teaching time in the classroom. They believe that by removing tests that are repetitious, we could improve our future performance – the
“less is more” adage in other words.  

   Where I deviate from the national reform ideal is in the use of the information gathered from tests. I have mixed feelings on using SBA results for a teacher’s evaluation.  Although I know teachers have a vested interest in the academic performance of their students, there are too many moving parts to consider using testing results for evaluations of teachers OR students.  Education is a three-legged stool. If all three legs of the stool (teacher, parent, and student) are working together, the child will have a great educational experience and increase his/her academic performance. If any of the legs becomes dysfunctional, it will have a negative impact on the academic proficiency. The teacher is certainly an integral part of the academic growth of his/her students. But students must also accept responsibility for their education.  The student must be prepared to learn as well as refrain from creating disruptions in the class. Parents must support the school by monitoring homework and assisting their children when possible. 

  As a parent, I looked forward to reviewing my children’s standardized results to see if they were making progress in their academic journey.  Results were never used to denigrate my children or the teacher. Used in the right format, testing can enable staff and parents to recognize weaknesses and address those weaknesses in a timely manner. Sad to say, I think testing falls under my belief about most of life.  Taken in moderation, typically things are ok.  But when we get fanatical, we can do more harm than good on great ideas.

  Secretary Designate Skandera will conduct a Town Hall meeting in Hobbs at Tydings Auditorium from 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday (Dec. 3).  This will be a great time to listen to the reforms from the New Mexico Public Education Department.  Ms. Skandera will give a brief presentation and have time for questions and answers.

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