My third grader recently took a series of tests called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Students across the state of Washington will take these tests for the first time this school year.
From a parent’s perspective, preparation for the tests was certainly substantial but not overwhelming. And that’s in large part because our son’s teacher did an extraordinary job preparing everyone. From the beginning she explained the entire process and answered everyone’s questions in a calm, professional manner. She introduced the new testing format and material incrementally, with plenty of previewing and reviewing, so that the kids could adjust and learn without feeling overwhelmed.
Most importantly, from the first day of school until the day the tests were given, my son’s classroom and his school community remained the same warm, welcoming place they had always been. Our school didn’t mutate into a mind-numbing, test-prep factory. In fact, the students all managed to go to recess every day. They enjoyed library, P.E., music and drama class each week. They created art projects such as clay pinch pots and chalk drawings, wrote poetry, participated in school-wide plays and assemblies, did hands-on science projects and had a blast at their Halloween and Valentine’s Day class parties.
The biggest substantive difference I noticed in our son’s homework and classwork was more and earlier exposure to non-fiction text and writing. This included taking pro or con positions on issues and explaining how he arrived at them. That seems like a valuable skill for any student to develop. Yes, it was hard and something he wasn’t used to doing, but he got through it.
And the tests themselves? Each day I asked our son how it was going. His mood seemed generally upbeat. And his play-by-play descriptions of how the day itself transpired were mostly uneventful: “It was fine. When I finished I got free time to read books or work on a project.” He reported one technical glitch the first day, but it was repaired without much delay or fanfare. As a bonus they got longer recesses on some of the test days.
My main takeaway from the SBAC testing and the preparation leading up to it is this: our dedicated teachers, with support from parents, can teach our kids how to be ready for challenging schoolwork and tests and, by extension, anything else life throws at them, in a way that inspires confidence and brings out their best. Yes, school can be difficult and even frustrating at times. And of course, no one likes to take tests. But what teachers and classes do you remember most? I remember the ones that pushed me beyond what I thought I could do.
School districts like mine will use the SBAC to see whether and how our students are meeting Washington’s new learning standards – the Common Core State Standards. Unfortunately there’s a lot of misinformation and at times downright scary stuff out there about the standards, the tests and the preparation for them. If my son’s experience is typical, the reality is a lot less scary than what we are reading or hearing, thanks to his wonderful teacher and the supportive principal and staff at our school.
A few days before the test we got an email from the teacher going over the schedule one last time, and she closed with this reminder:
Please remember that your student has done a lot of work to prepare for these assessments, and they are ready to go! As their teacher I believe in them and know that they will find success.
As parents we know that hard work in school is the best preparation for life. When we set a high bar for our kids, and help them work hard every day towards their goals, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.