Take a Deep Breath . . . and Test
It's early June and educators in schools across the country are almost there...
Not the end of the school year. And nowhere physical. "There" is the end of the testing season.
I remember the huge collective sigh of relief students and staff would let out when the weeks of standardized testing were over. If that's how you, your staff and your school feel, keep reading to find out how to deal with it.
Good, bad, or indifferent, educators invest a chunk of time in assessments and it's a relief to finish.
As a site leader, I was responsible for the climate on my campus and I always hated how much angst this battery of tests caused.
I think it's unnecessary and has been created by misguided leaders at the highest level. If we create an environment that makes the test all or nothing, we can continue to expect a high stress, low reward endeavor.
I took heat as a principal for not buying into the big state test push at the end of April. I didn't hold rallies to cheer for our student performance on the assessments; it seemed so insincere. But at the same time, test scores where I worked consistently rose in a variety of communities with different demographics.
So, I am NOT anti-testing.
I am, however, anti-testing pressure that puts an over-emphasis on ONE test in the spring.
To my young (and experienced) educators and leadership friends wondering how to navigate this challenging time of the school year, here are my top 5 tips to avoid singing the "State Test Blues."
1. Remember that it is an outcome of what we do - it is not who we are.
Positive performance on these or any other tests is a result of good teachers doing what they do:
know their students
teach/assess the standards
use multiple strategies to engage students.
It's a difficult dance, but it happens in classrooms across our schools every day. Solid professionals using innovative instructional techniques are making learning fun for our students while teaching the appropriate standards.
Our test scores will reflect a positive change if we support and coach teachers.
Sadly, there are examples where the test has become the curriculum and we spend quality instructional time practicing for the test.
We need accountability, but selling our soul for a few points isn't real and contributes significantly to the testing pressure.
2. A portfolio is better than a snapshot.
I was fortunate to spend most of my career in a district where our performance as leaders and as a school was based on something called an "Accountability Model."
Don't get me wrong, we still fought the state test fight and fell victim to over-emphasizing the one score more times than I'd like to remember.
For most of my career, though, we worked to value a variety of measures which involved every faculty member. We evaluated:
student participation in quality co-curricular programs
care of facility
We assessed ourselves all year long and at the end of the year received a report card based on multiple measures over an entire school year.
Schools that qualified received some nice recognition, but more importantly, it was a well-rounded, legitimate look at the entire school and didn't put too much emphasis on any one thing. (Contact me if you're interested in installing a similar program at your school.)
3. Wins Matter
Leadership is so important . . . the effect YOU have on others is impossible to overstate.
I have ALWAYS believed that testing isn't the problem, it is the way we react as leaders to the results that causes unrest. I can assure you, I have been guilty of this on more than one occasion and I hope I learned something.
Any high stakes endeavor should be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate our growth.
Your first job as a leader is to look at your results to find any and all areas to celebrate publicly. We can always find WINS in our data and that is great place to start sharing results.
I also see purpose in discussing areas where we under-performed, but in these situations, however, good leaders want to use the WINNERS VOCABULARY and present this data as OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT.
4. Don't Let The No-Hopes Win
It won't surprise anyone when I say that the even bigger leadership challenge occurs when we don't do well.
Any leader of any organization for any length of time has shared a universal truth: SOMETIMES WE DON'T GET WHAT WE WANT.
Testing is no different.
We go in hoping for a result and we fall short. This is the best way to learn about ourselves as leaders. Gone are the days, I pray, that we would stand up and scold our team for test results.
Certainly, though, as a key accountability tool, we should acknowledge results and put on our COACH hat.
First, I would avoid any public humiliation of folks who fell short. I didn't put out teacher results to the staff, only combined data. Any individual conversations should be handled privately for the sake of improving performance.
If you're using the WINNERS VOCABULARY, there are two things to focus on:
EXACT RESULTS. Work with your teacher on exactly where they fell short and exactly what was the desired result. Hopefully, by seeing precisely the mistakes, they can feel empowered to make the necessary adjustments.
EXECUTION. Make sure the coaching conversation isn't centered around good and bad. Make sure it is clear that they have the talent to succeed, but must work on how and what they are doing. Good teams sometimes lose and underdogs often win, so success or failure is not always talent. Often, the trophy goes to the players or teams who execute at the highest level. So support your teacher by ensuring his/her ability to execute through collaboration, training, etc.
The bottom line is that we want our teachers to feel that continuous improvement is in their control.
5. Look in the Mirror
Remember, good leaders give credit for success and take responsibility in times of challenge.
Be prepared to hold yourself to the highest standards of performance. Let your team know YOUR opportunities of improvement and let them in on areas you want to execute better.
Your willingness to be the model is the single best example of leadership you can offer your community (this is key when they are not "feelin' the love").
Now that testing for 2019 has reached its conclusion, schools can focus on the end of the year and start preparing for next year.
As you hit your summer stride and results come in, spend some time thinking about how to take accountability and use it the way it was intended: as a balanced look at the things we all think are important. Yes, even including the state assessment system.
Just don't let that test define you. Lead according to YOUR CULTURE, not your numbers.