I ask this because I took a gander at the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and my head exploded. Actually more like shut down. And I have a master’s degree—in EDUCATION.

If you have a child in public school (third grade or above), as you’re reading this, he or she is most likely in the thick of testing or wrapping it up. Did you ever wonder why your child has to take these tests every year, and what they mean?

Any school system accepting federal funding requires year-end assessments. Basically, they give us money to feed our kids, train our teachers, buy technology, reimburse teachers for tuition, or to supplement services for our students whose first language is not English, or who need other specialized services. Federal funding is EVERYWHERE throughout our schools. And, essentially, they want to know how this money is being used, and whether it is helping kids. Enter: test scores.

And why do these new tests seem so hard, and what do these scores mean for my child and for the school? Well. To break it down in the simplest of terms, the state and the feds are collecting data—about school systems and how they work or don’t work.

High schools are judged not only on how well their students perform on tests, but by the number of students taking AP classes, or by the graduation rate. It’s a picture of how a school system is performing and how the money was best used. For example, did the federally funded free lunch program at one school improve academic performance or not? Or, when we use federal funds on classroom technology, is it improving student achievement?

The way your child’s score (and that of his or her school) is configured these days is by improvement. West Virginia has a growth model that determines student performance. If Johnny scored a FIVE in third grade, then we want to see him score higher next year. We’re not judging Johnny against Susie; we’re just looking at Johnny’s educational trajectory.

But here’s the bottom line. Your child is great no matter how he or she performs on a standardized test. That is only a small piece of what makes your child shine. My daughter is a pretty good tuba player. There is no standardized test for that. So, no one at the State Department of Education will ever know that about her (unless they heard it from me, since I tend to brag.) Just make sure everyone gets plenty of rest, has a great breakfast, and relaxes for the big day.
— Liz Ward has an MSED in School Administration, and has experience as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator. She now owns and operates Renew Yoga (Charles Town and Shepherdstown). Visit the Renew website to check out Liz’s summer writing workshops for kids.

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