Tatiyana Webb, Memphis TN, firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Tatiyana Webb and I teach 8th grade math (Core Connections, Course 3) in Memphis, TN. This year I have been working with the Teacher Research Corps (TRC) conducting research on assessment practices. This topic has been important to me because I have seen students struggle with being able to demonstrate their understanding of material on standardized assessments. Often students develop test anxiety, and these assessments do not provide an exceptionally accurate depiction of what students know. This year I have explored different methods of assessment strategies with my 8th grade math students. It has been important to me to allow them a variety of ways to show me what they know. This includes some verbal assessments, video assessments, self-assessments, and projects. Students have responded very well to these alternate methods of assessments, and the data that I was able to collect was far better than what I have typically gained from a traditional paper and pencil test.
I have also had an interest in education policy and how it affects our school system. This year I took part in a statewide policy fellowship, where I had the opportunity to learn about education policy in Tennessee. I was specifically interested in learning more about how education policy is made and then implemented at the local level. A few years ago while helping to design interim assessments at my school, I had a lot of questions about testing practices, design, and purpose. I wanted to learn more about this process and play a part in it. I wanted to have conversations about other methods of assessments that were more equitable for all students and that actually allowed them to showcase their knowledge. In addition, I have personal experience with standardized tests where scores suggested I would not be successful. So I really wanted to get to the bottom of how assessment policy impacts students. During my fellowship I learned a great deal about testing practices and policy in TN and how they are used to inform instruction.
As part of this fellowship, I had the opportunity to share my voice in Nashville, TN with a state legislator on education policy. This was an unique opportunity, and I was grateful that policy makers were listening to teachers’ voices. The primary focus of this conversation was about high quality teachers and exposure to post-secondary education options for students. However, during this conversation, the legislator expressed her views on standardized tests, which was not a favorable one. After talking with the legislator, a fellow teacher and I had a follow-up conversation where I shared with her my research with TRC. During this conversation she mentioned that standardized tests are important and students need to know how to take them because they will need to take them as adults. Her husband, a firefighter, just had to take a standardized test in order to get promoted. This was interesting to me. My immediate response to her was, is there a better way, other than a paper-and-pencil test, for her husband to demonstrate that he knows how to perform the duties of his jobs? I asked more about why he had to take a standardized test and what it covered. She explained that it was on fire code and what he knows about putting out fires. She also explained that there is a physical exam as well. I explained to her the research that I have been working on with TRC. Firefighting seems to be the profession that would lend itself to relying more on alternate methods of assessing. The fact that a profession such as firefighting would rely on a standardized test to assess someone’s abilities to perform duties seems a bit backwards to me. This is a perfect example of how using an alternate form of assessment would be more appropriate, an assessment where the firefighter would be actually applying the knowledge they will use everyday to put out fires.
As I continue to learn and explore assessment practices and the policies behind them, I am aware that assessment is important. We all assess our students, formally and informally. The bigger question is what is the best method that provides us with the information we are seeking from the assessment in the first place? Can we design and implement assessments in a way that is equitable? I have never been a fan of standardized testing. I do agree that we need to assess knowledge and mastery, but we need to do it in a more real-world way. I believe we are damaging kids’ mindsets about school, learning, and overall mental health by having all this added pressure about getting a certain score on a test. I am a fan of capstones, project-based learning, and portfolios. I am fairly new to the teaching profession, but when I think about creating a better, happier life for me and my students, figuring out how to be less stressed about a test seems like something we should figure out. Thinking about the future we are preparing our students for, they need to know how to “do things”, “think,” and “create solutions.” We do not need to simply fill in the correct answer choice on a test. We need our students to show what they know the same way firefighters do – by taking action and putting out fires, not by guessing A, B, C, or D.