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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

No Testing Week: Part Deux

By Peter DeWitt — November 11, 2011 5 min read
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Although, we have always been a close staff we have had open and honest discussions about testing, NCLB and how we can move forward in a time with so many mandates.

As adults, we can all remember the stress we felt when taking an exam. It didn’t matter whether it was a chapter test created by a teacher or the SAT’s, we know what it feels like to worry that we may not do well on the test. For one week, I want students to feel what is like to not have to worry about a test, which is why I asked my staff to participate in our very own, No Testing Week.

We all understand that it would be nice to go a month without tests. We also understand that at some point in their lives students will have to take an exam. However, even in elementary school we have seen an increase in the mount of testing that is being done to our students. In an effort to collect good data on how well our students will compete with other nations or how well are teachers and administrators are doing at their jobs, testing is the new normal for all of us.

Staff Reaction
“What kind of activities can we do during the week?” I do have a small part of me that likes to control situations but I have a great deal of trust for my staff, so I know they will do outstanding things with our students. “Do we have to do the activities you suggested?” These are all the questions our staff asked when we met to discuss our No Testing Week on Monday afternoon.

I pride myself on being a fairly good communicator, but I know that I do not always do a good job of explaining myself. In the past few weeks since I wrote the blog “No Testing Week” I have been asked numerous questions from staff, students and parents at school, as well as my graduate students where I am an adjunct.

As much as we were all getting excited about the event, there were still many unanswered questions. I sent out a clarification e-mail but that did not completely answer all of the questions. In my defense, we did meet a couple of times already. However, the best ideas and questions come from reflecting after the meeting. Two of my teachers suggested a third face-to-face meeting, which was a great idea.

We all met as a faculty and worked out some of the kinks. The week I designed is called No Testing but it does not mean that we can’t grade certain projects. We still can achieve the goal of finding good authentic data. The data we collect from No Testing Week will include every type of learner. It also doesn’t mean that we throw away all parameters. No matter how fun a week looks, everyone including staff and students need parameters.

National Education Association
I received a phone call from a senior writer at NEA Today. The writer had contacted a few of my staff members to make sure that I was “walking the talk,” which is always a great idea. No one knows whether I was really planning on doing a No Testing Week except for the parents, students and staff. Some of the teachers assured the writer that we were planning the week to go from November 28th through December 2nd.

We are doing No Testing Week because of two reasons. The first is that we are overly concerned about the amount of testing that is happening in schools. Besides the local assessments we can create, we are being inundated with state assessments that are archaic in nature. They may ask modern questions but they do it in a format that is far behind the times that we are living in.

Secondly, we are doing a no testing week because it is the week of our Scholastic Book Fair and we have an outstanding children’s author named Matt McElligott coming to present at our school on Friday night. Matt writes about many topics which can be included in math and science studies. However, our students love him because he writes about pirates! On Friday during the day and the night when Matt presents, we will be dressing like pirates. The parents, along with their children are excited about the week.

Before NCLB...Previous to when we were hit with NCLB, elementary schools were (and still should be) a place that is creative and fun. We had less parameters, and we were less concerned about a daily focus on textbooks. We had a better balance of education and fun.

The point of No Testing Week is to go back to a time before NCLB and all of our mandates. We will focus on educating our students in diverse ways where they will be exposed to more hands-on and inquiry based lessons, and will not have to worry about the pressures of passing a test. Besides giving a test, there are so many ways to assess what they are learning which will have a positive impact on our students instead of a negative one.

In addition to the benefits of a less stressful week and focusing on creativity, we have seen an increase in the sense of community within our school. Although, we have always been a close staff we have had open and honest discussions about testing, NCLB and how we can move forward in a time with so many mandates.

Schools That Will Participate
Something amazing happened after I posted the blog in October. I heard from educators from across the country and around the world. Although I can’t wait for No Testing Week, I found that there are many educators like us who want something more for their students. They want a week where they can focus on student-centered topics and expose students to different types of learning.

Yes, many of these lessons can be used during our present situation, but the reality is that more educators feel insecure about teaching outside of the “textbook” box because they will be evaluated based on old principles. As these past few weeks have progressed I have offered less parameters for that week and have found that teachers are coming up with more creative ideas every day.

Many of the teachers have taken Matt McElligott’s books home over the weekend to begin planning creative lessons for students. In some cases, teachers are not going to tell students what they are doing that week. In addition to student-centered activities, some of the teachers are surprising students with a new adventure when they enter their classroom. Every child should have the chance to go on an adventure in the classroom.

It is my hope that many schools will create their own “No Testing Week” and allow their students to have a week that is free of the stress from testing.

Things to keep in mind when planning a No Testing Week:

  • Set up multiple meetings with staff
  • Communicate with parents. Many of them feel schools test too much and will support you.
  • Try to plan one whole school event a day, even if that means that the students will not have to leave their classroom (i.e. Announcements, videos).
  • If your school has a Scholastic Book Fair, plan your No Testing Week during that week. Bring in an author!
  • Make sure you clearly articulate your goals for the week.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.