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Finding Common Ground

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

By Peter DeWitt — October 17, 2011 4 min read
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“We are raising a stressed out generation of students who are over-tested and overanalyzed.”

The other day I took some time to craft an e-mail in a Word document. I needed to take the time to make sure that I chose my words correctly. Sending the whole staff a message is something that I take seriously because once your words are out there, they can be interpreted in numerous ways. The reason for the e-mail was to communicate something that I feel strongly about. It had to do with the overuse of testing in the U.S. and the need to focus on creativity in our school.

Once a month I meet with my Principal’s Advisory Council (PAC). I have two co-chairs who are teachers within the building. They are open and honest, even when they are saying things I may not want to hear. PAC is not about venting about building issues, but about meeting to discuss how we can improve our building environment. I wanted to approach PAC about having one week that is test free. I decided to send the staff an e-mail prior to PAC because I wanted them to understand where I was coming from.

As a principal and educator, I am concerned that all we ever hear about is testing. Our scores are available on-line to anyone who wants to see them. However, our school environment is not available for everyone. The happiness and engagement levels of our students are not available either, so in the end, clicking on a link that says, “See How Your Kids Are Doing” really means “See how your kids are doing in one particular area that took place over a three day period.”

I am fortunate because I work with great staff and awesome kids but I worry that we are only measured by a test and not by our creativity. I want our kids to live and breathe creativity all the time but I need to begin with one week. Just one week to open up new doors for them. One week where without test anxiety. Perhaps we will even outlaw the word test.

No Testing Week
During the week of November 28th through December 2nd our school is not doing any testing of any kind. We are participating in our very own “No Testing Week.” Teachers are not going to give science tests, social studies tests, math quizzes and spelling tests. They will not be able to progress monitor. Our students are going to have a week where they do not have to worry about the pre-test at the beginning of the week or the looming exam at the end of the week.

Instead, we are focusing on doing projects and other creative activities. Our school participates in two Scholastic Book Fairs and the week that brings November and December together is one of the weeks Scholastic will be at our school. Our students will be able to buy books all week long. They will be surrounded by books all week long. They will have extra time to get lost in the wonder of their favorite book all week long. On Friday evening, December 2nd we are having a local children’s author Matt McElligott come to present and read to children and families.

The reasons for doing this are plentiful. In the U.S. we are too focused on testing and I strongly believe the only way to bring back creativity is for principals to give teachers permission to spend time without worrying about data. Good data that informs instruction will always be important but I do not believe we always collect good data. I also believe we are raising a stressed out generation of students who are over-tested and overanalyzed.

Teacher Reaction
Teachers were ecstatic, which surprised me because I was not sure if they would be on board with spending a week without data. However, they were happy to be given free rein to focus on projects and other creative activities that are highly effective in building student engagement. I could feel the tension in the building slip away. Although our No Testing Week is more than a month away, we already have many great school building initiatives already planned. The following are some of the activities we will be doing:

  • Reader’s theatre involving one of Matt’s books
  • Deb, our librarian, will be building a pit (swimming pool) in her library which is the setting of Matt’s book Uncle Frank’s Pit. Students will be filling the pit with different objects by the end of the week
  • All students and staff will be writing about their favorite book and hanging their pieces around the school
  • All three 4th grade classes will be building a long house with their students (Social Studies curriculum). Every class will be responsible for building a section.
  • I will be digitally recording myself reading books and our librarian will set it to a Power Point. The Power Point will be made into a movie with graphics. During the day teachers can go to the shared folder, bring up the Power Point and listen to me read the story
  • We will read Bean Thirteen and will be making mosaics.
  • Teachers will be using Matt’s book the Lion’s Share to teach students measurement and fractions, which means some baking will be involved
  • All teachers will be involved in project-based learning projects with their students
  • Our school will be transformed into a creative environment for learning which will spur more ideas.

I understand that we can do these activities regardless of testing. However, the building environment changes when there is testing involved. People are less patient and more stressed. We know testing is our reality but for one week it will be the furthest thing from our minds. Perhaps we will find other weeks to do this again and we will all learn to not let testing get in our way. After all, it’s an elementary school, and all elementary schools should be places that spark the imagination and not put it out.

Feel free to start a testing revolution of your own, and take a break from testing.

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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.