Test Scores and Accountability: Who’s to Blame When Things Go Wrong?
July 31, 2018

Towards the end of the school year, I received an anonymous note from one of my students. However, the identity of the student was easily recognizable by the handwriting.

M, the student from whom the note was written, was one of my top students. She is not only naturally intelligent but hardworking, passionate and meticulously organized. If I missed a beat in my lesson, she was right there to help me fill in whatever sentence I was stumbling over. Which is why I was surprised by what she wrote.

In this note, M confided that she was feeling overwhelmed by the surmounting pressure concerning the upcoming end-of-year assessments. She expressed that she was not only nervous about taking the tests, but that she felt like she was going to let her family and teachers down if she did not do well.

I was troubled by this note for obvious reasons, but after careful deliberation I responded to M’s note. I told her that I was proud of her, that I was rooting for her, and to give it her best effort. My response seems trite.

I wanted to say more though; I wanted to reassure M and tell her not to worry. I couldn’t honestly say those things  because I was worried too.

Starting around the time we returned from winter break, I began to hear the terms “testing season” and “test prep” quite frequently. By February, we were discussing test preparation strategies that we could incorporate into our daily lessons.

In meetings, we would discuss such questions as, “How can we modify our lessons to prepare students for what we they will see on the test?”

In April, we set aside a whole two weeks strictly for remediation and test preparation. We analyzed our data for deficits and weak points and intentionally lesson planned to address these areas. We diligently worked to prepare our students, taking the time to painstakingly review prior tests and work through previously wrong answered questions.

Apparently, this wasn’t enough.

TNReady, part of Tennessee’s Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), released student test scores from the 2017-18 school year last Thursday, July 19, 2018. There were some areas of growth. Nevertheless, the overall results were not great—actually, far from it.

Elementary statewide proficiency in English/language arts went up to 35.7% from 33.9 in 2017; high school statewide proficiency in math went up to 22.5% from 21.5 percent in 2017. Across all other content areas and grade levels, scores either remained stagnant or went down.

It’s easy to attribute blame to large institutions; yet, if we indulge in a minute of introspection, we might be a little more hesitant to cast the first stone.

The school system is comprised of individuals—people like you and me. If we are not directly involved in the school system, we are involved indirectly—as parents, students, and at large—as members of our communities.

When I think of the challenges our school district and the public education system in general are facing, this quote by Walter Dyer from “The Richer Life” comes to mind:

“…and we endeavor to solve their problems en masse, by formulating a remedy for the ills of a group. The needs of an individual are lost sight of in contemplating the needs of society.”

We need to start being accountable in our individual roles as teachers, parents, students, policy makers, government representatives—heck, even Secretary of Education.

This post was written by Elizabeth Jepsen and originally ran on the Memphis K12 Education Blog. 

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