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School Talk: Testing checks to see what's been learned

By: Vicki Barber, El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools
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Assessments, testing, examinations — why do those words often conjure up such scary thoughts? It’s probably because we all have experiences we’d just as soon not recall. I remember one algebra exam in college. It was the professor’s first year of teaching. No one received above a D on the first test. It was a demoralizing and frustrating situation. I still remember it all these years later. If those are our memories of testing situations, then it’s no wonder we quake when we hear the word — test. If it isn’t a school story, most of us have memories of going to the DMV for a driver’s test. Even if we’ve driven for 30 years, there’s always the trepidation that we should have looked at the manual again. Maybe the laws have changed and we don’t even know it. Aren’t we supposed to do something special around a school bus? What if I miss the question? What if I fail the test? What if…. You can imagine what it’s like for a child who has a weekly spelling test, chapter social studies exams, pop quizzes in math, and now has state testing requirements to meet. You’d think they’d get used to it, but are we used to the DMV exam? Spring is the time we do our statewide school yearly assessments. We do them in the spring because we have given students an entire year to study and learn what will be on the test. No, we don’t teach the test, but we do teach the concepts that will be tested. Much like for the DMV exam, the manuals, in this case textbooks, are studied and learned. There are practice tests and teachers throughout the year build one skill upon another so that when the test is taken, it seems easy and the skills are ones students already know how to do. Students run into difficulties when they miss lessons or they don’t understand a particular concept. For me it was always when to use apostrophe s or s apostrophe (‘s vs. s’). I heard the lesson repeatedly, yet I just didn’t get it. I probably missed the same question for years because I didn’t understand the concept. Not knowing the difference between ‘s or s’ doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I’ll need a few more lessons in figuring out the difference. My teachers needed to know that I don’t have that skill yet. Teachers teach all year and students learn all year. With the spring assessments, it’s time to see how well we’ve all done in this process. Last minute cramming sessions might help for a few items, but it’s just easier to relax, know that learning has occurred between August and now, make sure there’s a good night’s sleep, breakfast is a healthy one, and there’s little stress or anxiety before school on test days. The questions are not tricky. The state assessment results tell us a great deal about an individual child, a teacher, a grade level, subjects, methods of teaching, a school, and a school district. So, we like to keep everyone’s apprehension to a minimum. Yes, tests can be scary, but remember there’s been an entire year devoted to studying and learning for these tests. Take a deep breath and relax. Vicki L. Barber has been with the El Dorado County Office of Education for 26 years. In 1994, she was elected as the Superintendent of Schools.