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Testing has its place in education

Across the country, seniors are flipping their tassels and walking across the dais into a new phase of their lives. For many, this walk may be the last time they identify as a “student” – putting years of textbooks and final exams behind them. But graduation doesn’t mark the end of learning, and it won’t be the last time students are confronted with a test.

Life is full of moments when we are tested – they’re just not always scheduled or require No. 2 pencils. In my own life, these tests, no matter how challenging, have helped me to learn and grow into the person I am today. It’s a lesson I’ve worked hard to impart to my fourth-grade students: tests prepare us for the next challenge.

As a teacher, I use tests throughout the school year to measure my students’ progress and to better understand how I can support their learning. These tests also provide valuable feedback to students and their parents on where students excel and where they may need some additional help. Instead of feeling frustrated, students have the tools and the opportunity to monitor their own growth and the impact of their efforts.

Just this past school year, one of my students was able to see that he grew 25 points in math and reading on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment – 15 points more than the majority of his peers. Being able to show him what he could do and where he excelled helped him gain confidence and understand that, even in the face of challenges, he could prevail.

Feedback from an end-of-year test, the PARCC assessment, helps all of us – parents, students, teachers, principals, and state education leaders – understand the performance of all students, particularly in comparison to other students in New Mexico, and even those in other states, from Colorado to Maryland. These assessments not only identify students’ strengths and weaknesses but help me understand where I can improve as a teacher as well.

In my experience, parents have as much to learn from assessment feedback as I do, and I’ve found that this feedback empowers families to ask, “What can I do to support my child?” Because of the conversations I have with families about their students’ learning, family members leave feeling proud that they have specific steps they can take to support their child’s learning.

For instance, as my students begin summer vacation this week, many of them are going home with study tools to help them build vocabulary skills, an area where assessments have shown many students struggle. Without the information from quality assessments, my students would miss out on this clear path to improvement.

Of course, it’s important to ensure children are taking the best tests, and I’m a strong supporter of fewer, fairer and better tests that provide students, parents and teachers with honest feedback about a student’s performance.

Through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), New Mexico has the opportunity to examine the amount of time spent on testing and take steps to ensure students are only taking tests that provide meaningful insights for their benefit while providing teachers, parents and students with the quality data they need. ESSA also allows New Mexico to conduct an assessment audit that can show us which tests are critical to keep and the others that we may no longer need to administer. I urge the Public Education Department to not let this opportunity pass us by.

Just like with life’s tests, academic assessments prepare students for the next challenge they’ll face – whether that’s a tricky mathematical problem they’ll have to solve or a scenario they’ll have to critically analyze. Instead of shying away from tests, let’s teach our students to confront them head on, to be confident in their capabilities, and to learn how to grow from each experience.

Ashley Randall is a fourth-grade teacher at Colinas del Norte Elementary in Rio Rancho, where she serves as grade-level chair and is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council (SAC). She is also a member of the New Mexico Secretary of Education’s Teacher Advisory Committee and the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

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