Andrea Zelinski had this story last week on MNPS Board Member Jill Speering and a possible resolution challenging the current climate of testing. Instead of the resolution passing, MNPS Director of Schools recommended a study session where many of the questions raised by the resolution can be addressed. Speering and fellow Board Member Amy Frogge (a frequent critic of the current testing emphasis) agreed and the Board will now examine in study session the number of hours students spend taking tests, test prep hours, cost of tests, etc.
Perhaps more interesting, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has had this to say about testing:
“We at the state level feel like we need to measure results and we need to know how we’re doing. There’s no way to know what areas you need to improve in if you aren’t measuring something,” Huffman told reporters last month.
This is of note because it implies that without testing at every level and in every subject, it is impossible to tell if teachers are doing well or if schools are meeting the mark.
“I think we can’t live in a world where we pretend that everybody is doing OK, so it’s necessary to measure and see whether we’re making progress, what are the things we do well, what are the things we have to do better. If you don’t measure, you don’t really have a sense of how you’re doing,” he said.
Huffman failed to indicate how he knows that Harpeth Hall, where one of his own children attended school, is doing OK. There’s no state mandated standardized testing there, no TVAAS scheme. How, exactly, did Huffman know his child’s teachers were doing ok? Because he paid money for it? Because other people say it’s good? Or is it that good teaching and learning is about more than numbers on a spreadsheet.
Could it be that the music teacher gets a kid so excited about school that they soar in all their other subjects? Could the history teacher who is not the strongest in content be the one who serves as a mentor to children with no other adult role models? Could it be that Huffman can observe (just as other parents do) that his child is excited about school, is improving from the first day to the last? What about the kid who works hard and gets a C in Algebra just so he can keep playing football? How do you measure that? Was it the Algebra teacher’s inspiring lessons or the coach’s mandate to get good grades that “added value” to that kid’s education?
Is it worth the time and expense it takes to test in every single grade across multiple subjects — taking time away from instruction and growth? Would a simpler, streamlined set of tests be both more cost effective AND better for kids?
As MNPS studies the issue further, parents and the community will at least gain a better understanding of how often and for what purposes their kids are tested. And we’ll know more about the costs. Perhaps the next step will be to move forward with an agenda that’s good for kids (and works at Harpeth Hall), even if all the policy-making adults in Nashville aren’t happy.