"I worry about the Milestones and what will happen if I don't pass. My teachers do a good job of helping me to not worry so much. They always tell me to work hard every day in class and the test will take care of itself..."
"We have a great group of kids this year. They seem kind-hearted towards each other and their teachers. But, we can't help but worry how they'll do on the MIlestones and how that will impact our TEM scores..."
These are all comments taken directly from recent survey feedback from parents, students, and staff members. There are also other similar comments that I hear every day in casual conversation around the school--all pertaining in some degree to the impact of test scores.
Belwood's vision states clearly that we believe in developing the whole child, not just their ability to take a test. In short, we want to help our kids become better students, but we also want to help them to become better people as well. We believe in doing this through building strong, personal relationships with students and their families and through infusing more character development into the mainstream of our school culture--such as our new Belwood Bucket Fillers program that is starting. We are also implementing a STEAM program that will provide students with opportunities to learn and explore in meaningful, relevant activities. Despite these efforts, what makes achieving this vision even more difficult, though, is that our teachers, our parents, and even our students are afraid to divert too much attention away from the state-mandated curriculum due to fear of not being prepared for "the test."
We talk about this often at Belwood. We realize the need to provide students with more hands-on learning activities that will allow them to collaborate, think critically, and problem solve. We realize the need to provide students with opportunities to be creative, think outside the box, and create something meaningful to them in their own development. Reality is, though, that these discussions always come back to the fear of the test. "What if we don't cover everything that will be on the test?" "What if we take time away from our content and students aren't ready for that material on the test?" "How would that impact my TEM score?" It would be easy for me to tell those teachers that I'm not worried about any of that because I'm more worried about doing what's best for our kids, but that would also be unfair for me to say that. It would be unfair because it is a real and valid concern. When test scores determine half of a teacher's evaluation, and potentially a teacher's pay, it most definitely is a valid concern.
I told the teachers at our staff meeting at the start of the second semester that I had two priorities for our staff for the rest of the year. The first was for us to make sure our kids know they are loved--every day, no matter what. The second was for us to love each other--every day, no matter what. Not once did I mention anything about tests or scores. It's not that I don't care about test scores, its just that I know they aren't the most important thing about what we do. Our students are more than a test score, and so are we.
So, when I hear comments like the ones I stated above, there's nothing I can really do about it. I can't erase the legislation that brought us TKES/LKES. I can't disband the Governor's Education Reform Commission. What I can do is listen to teachers' concerns and support them along the way. What I can do is love them and encourage them to love each other. Finally, what I can do is pray--pray for my staff, that God will give them the patience and the resolve to keep doing what they're doing for the kids, and also pray for the leadership in our state that they will soon see that they are killing our profession.
I hope I make it long enough in my career to see the pendulum swing back the other way, so we can begin to focus on what really matters--our kids and their development as students and individuals, not just test-takers. Until then, we'll continue to try to find that balance between preparing them for the test, and preparing them for life.
Honestly, I'm worried about my teachers. I am blessed to work with an amazing group of people at Belwood, and I hope I have the opportunity to do so for a long time. We want Belwood to be a special place for kids and their families, and we don't want anything to interfere with our overall vision of helping our students succeed in life. If anyone has any feedback or suggestions on how I can better support our teachers and/or our students, I welcome your thoughts.
Belwood Elementary School