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PFFS and Standardized Testing

AIMs, Common Core, PARCC – these are polarizing components of the educational scene that politicians, lobbyists, for profit textbook and testing companies, teachers’ unions and parent organizations fight about often and loudly.  So I thought I would take a minute to share our position on all of this.

We understand and agree with many of those who believe that standardized tests are too narrowly drawn and too high stakes.  There are many unintended and negative consequences from judging schools almost entirely on these measures – the most glaring being that it pushes schools to evaluate prospective students as assets or liabilities based on their potential test scores.  The movement by state education departments to take into consideration students’ annual growth, as well as attempts to revise the test to expand beyond multiple choice questions are promising, but will not entirely solve the problems that many, many educators have written about.

We believe schools need to also use different, more authentic assessment measures and so we work hard implementing end of unit demonstrations of learning , student-led conferences, and require 8th grade graduation by successful portfolio exhibition.   These measures, as well as student and parent surveys and having a school that is committed to being open to visitors and observers, are alternative ways to show the public what our students know and can do.

That being said, we do believe that standardized tests provide some indication of what students are learning.  And because we are a public school existing in the real world, we know that our school will often be judged through this metric alone.  For example, when we applied for a new charter grant, our test scores were the only thing that the panel asked about.  So we take them seriously.  This is what we do to prepare ourselves for AIMs:

As you know, most of the pedagogy in our school is project/problem based with students collaboratively investigating essential questions and creating solutions and/or presentations which are shared publically.  After Spring Break, for the two weeks leading up to AIMs, our classrooms look a little more “traditional.”  Students are given more traditional math problems, reading materials are followed up with multiple choice questions and they practice working on writing prompts in a limited amount time – all of which is done individually with little or no teacher support.   We still intentionally work to have the content of the assignments be high interest and relevant (for example, our 8th graders will be reviewing primary source documents relating to their Civil Rights unit), but we want to give them some practice with the artificial structure that AIMs requires them to operate within.

For some students, especially those new to school, this is stressful and intimidating.  Our message to students is this, “Take it seriously, but don’t stress.  We believe in you, we know you will do fine.”  To make these days something they can look forward to instead of dread, we have a morning rotation of meditation, physical activity and breakfast.  And there is a no homework policy during the two weeks of AIMs.

If you want to support your young person and the school during this time you can do the following:

  • Have them do the recommended 30 minutes a day math practice during Spring Break (no problem if they miss a day or two, but it would be great if they got some time in).  Here are some websites they can use:  Khan Academy, ALEKs (for 6th graders), AIMS Practice Quick Links, IXL Math Skills.
  • Make sure they get their 9.5 hours of sleep throughout the 2 weeks but particularly on Sunday and Monday nights (April 6 & 7 and 13 and 14).  Believe it or not, studies show that missing sleep the night before being tested can have a significant impact on their scores.
  • Volunteer to bring breakfast food or drink on one of the 4 testing days (Monday April 7, Tuesday April 8, Monday April 14, Tuesday April 15)
  • Most of all, reassure them that they will be okay.  Encourage them to take their time.  Breathe.  Enjoy the change of pace that these days’ schedules provide.
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