Assessment Education Perspectives

Testing Season – Are the Students Still Learning?

It’s testing season, no doubt about it. That time of year when teachers and students are fully immersed in assessments meant to measure student growth over the course of the school year and from year to year. Teaching is a stressful job even on the best of days. But during testing season, the pressure and stress rise to even higher levels. Day-to-day routines are cast aside, schedules are changed, students and teachers alike can feel cast adrift as changes are made to accommodate getting all the students tested within the allotted testing window. In addition to the upheaval, it’s also a time of year where teachers can also feel like the school day is a “lame duck” day.

As Jennifer Gonzalez says in her blog, the term “lame duck” is most often used to describe a president who is still sitting in office after his or her successor has been elected. Because the primary focus during testing season is on, of course, the tests being given and taken, Gonzalez also talks about activities to do on those “lame duck” days. However difficult it may be to avoid having a few of those lame duck days or chunks of time, learning still needs to continue and teachers still need to assess the learning taking place over that period of time. How to do that teaching and how to measure student learning in such a way that it doesn’t add to the stress everyone is already experiencing during the annual testing season is a very real challenge.

Catherine Crenshaw, a third grade teacher, puts a lot of thought into how best to keep students learning, and assessing that learning in ways that foster high student engagement while keeping stress at a minimum in her classroom.

Using games and highly collaborative strategies to continue learning is one way that Crenshaw keeps her students moving forward. Projects, podcasts, and using the app Seesaw to help capture and present learning are other ways she keeps student growth moving forward.

Assessing that ongoing learning is another challenge that needs to be met during testing season. Many district and building leaders ask teachers to “take it easy” on students during this time period. Crenshaw deploys a number of qualitative formative assessments during this time period including observations, peer-to-peer review, small group and individual conferences, as well as one-on-one conversations with students about their learning.

Tweet: Testing Season – Are the students still learning #edchat #teachers“

Tweet: Testing Season - Are the students still learning + #edchat #teachers“When you have a conversation with a student about, say, a character in a book and they are able to articulate what they know about that character and what tools the author used to build that character, you are really able to get a strong sense of what the student knows and where they may need more practice or reinforcement,” states Crenshaw.

Formative assessments like that one-on-one conversation are one way to take the pulse of student learning in ways that provide descriptive feedback to the learner. Other strategies teachers can use to keep both the learning and assessing manageable during this time of year include things like:

  • Students host a Genius Hour on topics or skills they choose completely on their own
  • STEAM challenges involving hands-on problems that students need to solve using science, technology, engineering, art, and math
  • Student video projects
  • Student-created TED-style talks
  • Student-recorded podcasts, and so many more.

Regardless of what strategies you choose to roll out during this time of year, curriculum and activities can be structured in such a way that the “lame duck” days are minimized and the learning that kids need to do the best in life is maximized.

Judy Harris

Judy Harris brings over 17 years of teaching experience to her role as Policy & Advocacy Director at NWEA. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Reading Specialist, middle school Language Arts teacher, and licensed administrator. She was a member of the Joint Assessment Task Force for Oregon and co-authored The New Path for Oregon: System of Assessment to Empower Meaningful Student Learning. She was a teacher leader and Professional Development Provider for SCALE/WestEd. Ms. Harris served on the National Education Association’s (NEA) National Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Team and the state level ESSA Implementation Team in Oregon. She was nominated by the Oregon Congressional delegation to serve on the U.S. Department of Education’s ESSA Negotiated Rulemaking Committee in 2016. She has presented on student assessment and equity at numerous conferences including the National Indian Education Association, the NEA Minority and Women’s Summit, the Symposium on Student Assessment, and the National Council of Urban Education Associations.