A New Attitude Towards National Testing, Part 1

How could this be fun?

Lately, I’ve been pondering the teacher and student plight in regards to National Testing. There is no doubt that National Testing is here to stay in most countries, at least in the short term. Currently, my approach to National Testing has been to prepare my students by giving some practice with these types of tests with pre/post cursory comment of “This is just one test on one day that doesn’t actually measure everything you can do.”
We make such comments in the hope it will take some of the pressure off our students, but what is it really doing?

We know very well that the teacher’s attitude affects nearly everything in the classroom. Perhaps our attitude to these types of tests actually contributes to how well (or poorly) students attain. Perhaps our natural and justified disdain for National Testing affects the overall outcomes.

 Now, I’m definitely not condoning National Testing nor do I believe it is able to truly measure student achievement effectively. Nevertheless, I want my students to do well in National Testing. It’s healthy for them to become aware of benchmarks as they will, unfortunately, be measured by benchmark standards in the years to come.  Additionally, most parents place weight on National Testing and a student’s ability to do well in these types of tests can help parents to ‘breathe easy’ (Why parents place so much emphasis on these tests is beyond me – that’s a whole new article in itself!).

Thus, I’m going to set myself a new goal this year. I’m going to attempt a National Testing attitude adjustment. I’m not going to ignore it nor am I going to make it the be-all-and-end-all. I’m going to try to make it fun.
This  goal is perhaps too large, especially as we all know that, more often than not, the more we try to make things cool or fun or interesting, the less they actually are. Annoying. This is, obviously, a trial and error based goal which will require a number of important prerequisites in the classroom:

1. A supportive and communicative teacher-student relationship (Jennings & Greenberg, 2012)
2. A play-like competitive classroom environment where stakes are high in terms of the class’ culture (Black and William, 2010)
3. Reflective learning practice based on improving speed and accuracy (Zubizarreta, 2009)

(Note: ‘Curiosity’ would normally be in the list but National Testing forbids it 😉

The pupil labeled hopeless may react in quick and lively fashion when the thing-in-hand seems to him worth while, as some out-of-school sport or social affair. Indeed, the school subject might move him, were it set in a different context and treated by a different method.
Dewey, 1910

Check out my next article for some practical ways to make National Testing fun.

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