#LessTesting, More Learning and What it Means to Me

This week the Massachusetts Teachers Association is campaigning against the quantity of high stakes testing being done in K-12 schools across the commonwealth. With the campaign coinciding with our first-grade tide pool field trips, I’ve had an opportunity to engage with parent chaperones and fellow colleagues regarding the initiative (sparked mostly by my bright yellow sticker advocating for “less testing, more learning.”) The result has been an opportunity for me to communicate my feelings on what “less testing, more learning” means to me and to my elementary students across Burlington.

For starters, less testing, more learning means more time in science, social studies, the arts, and other disciplines students might explore. This is particularly true in the elementary classrooms where math and ELA get first bite at the large chunks of classroom instruction time. With the bulk of testing focused on these topics, its not uncommon for teachers to feel the urge to side step other subjects, knowing full well statistics like “student growth percentiles” or “VAMs” (that could be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness) rely on math and ELA subjects tested year over year. Given the increased role science will play in a 21st century workforce its hard for me to support the status quo of testing in our schools and the time on learning consequences that they bring. 

What is not the solution is to increase testing in science and social studies to level the emphasis ‘playing field.’ When I think about what students genuinely need in their days at school additional testing does not come to mind. More opportunity to practice higher-order thinking skills many modern day standardized tests claim to evaluate are a much better use of student time. To that end, we here at the Burlington Science Center are committed to revising our district’s science curriculum to assess through project-based units that end in authentic assessments that look more like methods of communicating knowledge in real-world careers. In some cases this may be an engineered prototype designed with scientific principles in mind. In other cases a wide range of multimedia tools may be used to explain phenomena or model system behavior. In no cases will it include bubbling multiple choice answer sheets or sitting through orientation sessions to assimilate them to their testing environment before showing what they know!

“Less testing, more learning” is a slogan teachers, administrators, and community members are using to voice their opinion in a time when Massachusetts policy makers are deciding which direction to point our state’s student assessment strategies. But its also a mantra to be remembered by educators of all kinds when it comes down to deciding how best to assess our students. May teachers all across the state remember that less testing starts in their own classrooms, and may I always have the willingness and capacity to support teachers from Burlington and beyond when the opportunity arises to rethink our assessment procedures and policies, and do what is truly in the best interest of our kids and their learning.


About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
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