There’s been lots of talk about tests around the dinner table this week. The general consensus is that our children don’t like to take tests when they don’t know the answers.
They’ve been taking one or more “pre-tests,” new this year as part of New York state’s Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), new rules that require school districts and BOCES to develop and put in place evaluation plans for both teachers and principals. The new evaluations score teacher effectiveness partly on how well students do on standardized tests.
APPR is one piece of the federal Race to the Top initiative. In exchange for some of the $4 billion funding, New York now has to install APPR and Common Core Learning Standards into its educational system.
Teachers give these pre-tests to determine what students already know about a given subject before they begin the class. At the end of the year (or semester, in the case of half-year classes for high school students), they’ll compare the results of the pre-test and a post-test to determine how well students learned the course material.
The good news (for our children, at least) is that the results won’t be used to grade individual students. While it’s important that we encourage our children always to do their best on tests, they shouldn’t be discouraged because they don’t know some (or even many) of the answers on the pre-test. That’s how teachers will know what to teach and what areas of instruction may need greater emphasis.
We told our children to think about taking the pre-test as they would about having a blank sheet of paper before starting a drawing. They would not feel badly if they were starting a new drawing with a blank sheet of paper. The blank page represents the potential for a wonderful drawing.
In the same way, they shouldn’t feel badly taking a pre-test – to start a class – without already knowing all the answers. The test, like that blank piece of paper, represents their potential to learn, to gain knowledge in that subject area.
It’s more positive to look at the test as potential to learn than as a lack of knowledge.
The pre-tests will:
- Give districts data on students’ baseline knowledge and skills,
- Help teachers plan instruction for both individual students and the whole class, and
- Enable the district to fulfill state APPR regulations and evaluate district teachers.
While the amount of discussion surrounding these tests is rather novel, the idea of an evaluation plan for teachers is not. School districts have historically developed their own systems to evaluate staff members, which meant a wide variety of methods across the state. APPR provides some consistency by giving a more uniform framework, allowing some areas that individual districts are able to customize.