Advocating For School Testing

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dear Teachers. 

Clearly, the Tennessee Legislature has no idea what it’s doing when it comes to making policy about education. They have no idea what really goes on in classrooms in terms of teaching and learning.  

That being said, I’m here to advocate for testing, whether the state says it “counts” or not. 

It’s important to have standards in public education. When I was thrown into an English classroom at Howard in 1993 with absolutely no experience, I desperately needed a set of guidelines concerning what areas my students should master. But no such guidelines were available. I taught what I thought was appropriate and tried my best to get by.  

Did my students grow those first couple of years? Who knows? I planned arbitrary assignments and gave them subjective grades. We did some reading and writing along the way, but did any of us truly improve? Did my students in English 9 receive the same education as my colleagues’ students? Who could tell? 

As I reflect on the English 9 classes at my current school, I feel confident that all students, regardless of the teacher, receive the same high-quality instruction. Our teachers plan together using the state standards. Students study rigorous thematic texts and compose robust written assessments that align with college readiness prompts and the TN Ready exam. Teachers and students use the state rubric to score multiple drafts. Nothing is arbitrary. 

In all tested areas, teachers give short, weekly assessments on targeted standards and analyze the data to determine how they should adjust classroom instruction. Many students analyze their own data and use metacognition to assess their own academic growth. Nothing is subjective. 

When the state tells teachers and students that the TN Ready assessments won’t “count,” they’re absolutely wrong. These tests show us how much we’ve all grown, as professionals and as students. That’s why we go to school every day: to grow. Certainly, a standardized test is but one of myriad ways to show that our students are becoming better readers, writers, thinkers, and problem solvers. Why not embrace every opportunity we have to measure our hard work? 

Does Tennessee need to overhaul its testing system? Of course. But those issues are out of our hands at this point. Lapsing into frustration and despair won’t fix anything. Maligning the tests to our colleagues and students won’t make the situation better. What we can do is work with the students today and celebrate the progress they can still make this year. To follow Jean-Paul Sartre’s argument, a teacher is great because of what she achieves, not because of what she could have achieved. Let’s forget the headlines and achieve greatness together.

Elizabeth Renneisen



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