This month, students in our community, across our state, and across the nation will begin the annual rite of passage that is taking standardized assessments. As a public institution, our district is required to administer these assessments under both state and federal law.
It can be rightly argued that the nation’s system of standardized assessments expanded dramatically after the 2001 landmark federal law, No Child Left Behind, which required, at a minimum, testing in English Language Arts and Mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school. No Child Left Behind also required science standardized testing once in elementary, middle, and high school.
The name of the federal law has changed (it is now called the Every Student Succeeds Act), but the testing system put forth in No Child Left Behind remains, as does the system of ranking schools based on the results.
My message to parents and students when it comes to these assessments is that they should take the test and do their best. This is a good lesson for school and life. Jeffco kids are as smart and capable as any student in the world and these assessments are an opportunity for our schools to show what they can do.
We also recognize that some parents do not wish their students to take these exams. I have directed our principals to create quality learning experiences for students during testing times and we are respectful of parents who have made the decision that their student will not participate in the exams.
Our state tests measure basic and foundational academic skills and content knowledge against state academic standards. These standards have been benchmarked in comparison with expectations in other states in the U.S. and other countries. The tests have also improved in recent years to require some analysis and synthesis of information, inference, and even writing. This is a good thing!
If your student does well on these exams, you should be proud. Your student is meeting or exceeding a challenging set of academic expectations for their age-range.
However, there are also many students who struggle on these exams and even fear them. As parents and educators in our community, we all have a responsibility to support these students in growing their academic skills.
We should also acknowledge that there are important elements the tests do not measure. Standardized assessments do not get at concepts like creativity and imagination, sustained problem-solving and complex reasoning, adaptation to changing conditions, teamwork and collaboration with others, or being a good citizen and friend.
They do not measure the depth of human talent when it comes to art, music, movement, and language. They also do not recognize or reward students who are innovators, or who have the passion and spark of an entrepreneur.
While progress toward academic standards is important, these tests measure only a small fraction of what it means to be a quality human being, and arguably not even the most important parts of that.
There are tens of millions of people in this country that struggled with standardized tests who turned out to be fantastically successful, wonderful human beings. You might even be one of these individuals yourself.
In sum, I encourage your students to take these exams and to do their best. This is an opportunity for our kids and schools to shine. But let us put the importance of these tests in their rightful place. The most important questions we encounter in life are those for which there is no one right answer. Teaching our students to navigate these questions with wisdom and grace is perhaps the most important lesson we can give.