Here in DC there is more snow and this gives me time to reflect on Spring which is just around the corner. From January to April, we are faced with getting students ready for the state assessments. This means that teachers are focusing on the border students who stand a chance of improving their scores and that teachers, administrators, and students are all feeling the push to prepare for April. It is often a time of enormous stress and as the research on teacher satisfaction indicates, this is happening at the same time when teacher morale is likely to be at it lowest for the year.
From my observations, January to April is also often a time when the students who just can’t make it are left to struggle. In recent years I have taken to recommending that we slow things down a bit and focus on the basic, underlying skills that these students need rather than trying to jump through too many hoops. This usually helps to restore some sense of calmness and order to instruction. Of course. the best case scenario is that standards-based learning and curriculum alignment have already helped teachers to understand where to focus instruction and the “mad-dash” this time this year may not be quite so mad or quite so much the dash.
From January to April, when delivering professional development to help close achievement gaps, in recent years we have focused on strategies such as studying and test taking skills, fluency, vocabulary development, writing and rewriting, and even for some students meta-cognitive strategies to help them understand their own learning process. We have talked with administrators about the latest research-based strategies from the most successful districts, and have helped districts and schools understand how to use spaced trials, games and quizzes, peer tutoring, technology, and student motivation and self-assessment. As it gets closer to the time of actual tests, then we move on to more test-taking strategies, reducing test anxiety, and even affirmations and advice on diet, nutrition, energy, and sleep.
Wow, this all takes a lot of energy — year after year. In thinking of the NEXT GENERATION of assessments, what else could be done, and how?