Pick your favorite comparison. Standardized testing (think TCAP or TNReady) is like a music recital, a dance competition, or even the opening night of a play. We could metaphorically compare standardized tests to Boy Scout badges, NASCAR races, or perhaps even balance sheets. All of the things mentioned represent a summative attempt to measure and/or reward the work of those involved in the activities. Still, the true value of each measure lies in the preparation that precedes it. I prefer an altogether different analogy. The most logical parallel for me personally is the one easily drawn between state assessments and sports. Standardized testing is like a ball game and the results are like a scoreboard.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” some might say. “People VOLUNTARILY participate in Boy Scouts and ball games, so badges and scoreboards reflect the performance of willing participants, exclusively. That’s not the case with schools and tests…EVERYBODY participates in those.” I get it. Valid point. In order for that difference to nullify the analogy, however, we would have to be willing to conclude that dance, Boy Scouts, and NASCAR are equally as important as school and the tests that go along with school. I’m not prepared to admit that, and I don’t think I know anybody who would. Everyone participates in education because it’s more important than Scouting and sports. Right?
If you played ball growing up, or even if you are simply a casual fan, you understand the purpose of a scoreboard—it measures performance. Sometimes the scoreboard can even reveal a bit more than the end result. When our Titans fall to the Falcons 10-7, for example, the scoreboard tells us we lost, but it also tells us that offense is a greater concern than defense. We might consequently expect the coaches to address that specific problem over the course of upcoming practices and film sessions. If you watch your favorite team’s scoreboard over several weeks, or over the course of an entire season, you can begin to recognize patterns of progression or possibly even regression, like we saw with the 2015 Titans. Mandated assessments like TNReady are remarkably very similar to athletic contests. For students, state tests reveal proficiencies and deficiencies, achievement and growth. For teachers and schools, tests reveal what can sometimes feel like wins and losses. For everyone involved, tests reveal opportunities for improvement.
Standardized tests (games) and their results (scoreboards) tell a teacher (coach) how students (players) performed. Future instruction (practice) is planned accordingly by teachers, with a laser focus on team AND individual deficiencies. Great educators, like great coaches, care much more about their pupils than they do about games or scoreboards. That said, scoreboards and standardized tests are undeniably a very important part of team improvement and individual growth.
I played a lot of ball when I was (much) younger. I honestly can’t remember a single final score from any of my games. What I still remember vividly, however, are character lessons learned in practice—things like accountability, hard work, self-awareness, teamwork, and resilience. Interestingly, not one of those things was ever singularly identifiable on a scoreboard. What the scoreboard revealed to my coaches and me was how those skills and attributes manifested themselves collectively over the course of an isolated game. The scoreboard tells a very important part of the story, in other words. Test results tell an important story, as well.
As the principal of your child’s school, I care very deeply about the MCE scoreboard, but not nearly as much as I care about the students who play the game. I care about the scoreboard because it measures our collective performance as a school community and helps us address academic deficiencies in our individual students. The lessons the kiddos learn along the way aren’t singularly identifiable on any given assessment; they are, however, revealed as the sum total of our students’ intellect, determination, and reasoning throughout their lives.
I hope our students grow into adults who don’t remember their TNReady scores. But I sincerely hope these same students see a relationship between hard work and performance, a correlation clearly revealed through standardized tests like TNReady. I hope our students remember we loved and supported them unconditionally, regardless of test performance. We want to celebrate students’ academic “wins” and help them grow through what might feel like intellectual “losses.” Keep in mind, we sacrifice the opportunity to accomplish either if we don’t play the TNReady game, or at least some sort of similar game.
You have my word, students will remain our focus for as long as I am blessed to lead MCE. Standardized assessments, like scoreboards, have their place and simply measure how well we (educators, parents, and students) execute our student-centered game plan. As for the number of “games” in our school year and the age at which we begin “keeping score,” well, those are different concerns for a different blog. As for potential “pre-game jitters,” I am confident that MCE will continue to be successful in our very deliberate attempts to help students address and minimize test anxiety—another life skill that only formal tests enable us to teach.
Concluding the analogy with a pep talk now, third, fourth, and fifth students have a five-game home stand scheduled for the next couple of weeks. They have practiced incredibly hard. Our opponents are ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Please help our team by making sure players arrive to the games well-rested and well-fed. You might even consider reminding them of something they hear regularly at our school—their best is always good enough. I am optimistic and excited to see what the scoreboard reveals this year, and I know you are already as PROUD of our coaches and players as I am. Scoreboards aren’t necessary to validate that pride or to determine how much praise we shower on the team, but they undoubtedly help us identify coaching concerns before the next game…and they absolutely help us to prepare players for the next season. Thank you, parents, for cheering on our team.
GO MADISON CREEK!