The rest of the elementary FCAT scores came in this morning. Writing came in a couple of weeks ago and 3rd grade came last week so 4th and 5th, the last to come, were in today. The 4th and 5th grade teachers anxiously walked straight into the conference room as they arrived this morning. You could see the stress on their faces as they sat down to highlight the students in their classes. They were serious and focused. You heard celebrations - Oh my gosh, Joe got a 4! - Can you believe Sammy got a 3? Woo hoo! Look how many 5's we had! You also heard the sighs and the questions - I knew he wasn't focused when we took the test - What happened to Jerry? Could she have missed a page or bubbled in incorrectly? Just as soon as they completed their highlighting, you could see them turn to their teaching partner and begin to celebrate, question, discuss and reflect.
As I watch this scene every year, I hate the visible pressure that teachers feel... but on the other hand, it is a time of deep reflection. I heard a teacher who had 100% of her children reach 3 or better this year say, "After 24 years of teaching I think I finally found the answer in using small groups to make the difference." For teachers that didn't do as well as they expected, I saw their devastated faces but also heard that many of them came back down to discuss their results with the principal, trying to figure out how to change their results for the next year. Isn't that the promise of assessment? Can we really change student achievement through instruction if we are not brutally honest with where we are and what the problems are? We need to know what works and what doesn't work.
Don't get me wrong. There are so many things I would change about testing - especially the weight that is put on a single test, the fact that the measures are not the same across states, and who can be exempted from taking the test at all - but there is also much about the accountability that helps us improve our practice. And isn't that the point?