Changing the testing culture
CH-UH kindergarten teachers spoke in unison during public comments at the Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Nov. 5. Their concerns ranged from the excessive time spent assessing our young learners to how our current testing of kindergartners is developmentally inappropriate.
One teacher stated that by the 25th day of school, teachers had administered five tests. Others stated that some of the tests must be given one on one, which results in a tremendous loss of instructional time. Nearly 90 colleagues and community residents attended the board meeting to support our teachers. Each teacher who spoke asked for time to meet with district officials to rethink what and how we test kindergarten students.
Later that same week, during our labor-management committee meeting, we discussed the points raised by our kindergarten teachers at the BOE meeting and how to move forward. We agreed that giving these teachers a professional day to discuss the testing regime and make recommendations would be a good use of time.
A full-day meeting with kindergarten teachers and administration was held, and a testing plan was hammered out—one that aligns well with what our teachers want for their young students. Many of the tests were replaced with standards-based checklists that organize the data that teachers acquire through a variety of daily assessments that they use to inform instruction.
This collaborative effort brought forth a recommendation for “learning school” at the beginning of the year, to help our kindergarten students become familiar with how to “do school.” For example, teachers pointed out that students know what the United States flag looks like because of the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Yet, when the new social studies test asked students to circle a picture of the U.S. flag shown next to the flag of Mexico, most students chose the Mexican flag.
Why? Kindergarten teachers know, through their experience, that most students are right handed and the Mexican flag was on the right—where students circled what they saw first.
The professional day resulted in positive outcomes. Teachers need and want relevant information to guide their instruction, and they were frustrated enough to go public with their concerns—something we, as teachers, rarely do at board meetings. Many thanks to the board members for taking this matter seriously, and to the administration for working with and listening to the classroom professionals.
At the board’s work session, later in November, the focus was on testing data and how the central office uses this information. Board members were interested in how much time is used to collect, monitor and analyze test data. The director of data research and assessment services contacted me about the information our teachers union already has regarding first-, second- and third-grade testing. We determined that more information was needed, and together we developed a survey for those grade-level teachers. We will compile the survey results and report back to the BOE.
These efforts represent positive steps toward fixing some of the concerns that I expressed in an earlier column about our testing culture. I hope that our BOE continues to openly question the testing requirements and procedures of the state and of our district.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.