Spring brings new baby calves on my husband’s ranch just as it brings testing to GFPS. Both have happened for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I looked forward to calving season on my parent’s ranch, and as a GFPS student, I looked forward to taking the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS). As a GFPS teacher and later as a principal I looked forward to giving the ITBS and CRT. Unfortunately, while ranching continues to be a noble endeavor, annual student testing has come under attack. In yesterday’s paper, there was even a paid ad implying that parents shouldn’t have their kids tested by the modern day version of spring testing: the Smarter Balance or SBAC test.
As I said back when No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001, I do not fear accountability. Annual testing lets us know as a district if our curriculum is working; it lets parents know if their student is learning; it lets teachers know how his/her class is performing. On the ranch, we don’t fear accountability either. The annual weighing of the calves in the fall as we prepare for sale tells us how we are doing as ranchers…is our breeding program working; are we keeping our mother cows healthy so they have nice-sized calves; does our nutrition program fatten the calves appropriately?
Critics of annual “governmental testing” say it must go. I disagree. We assess student learning regularly, but we don’t overdo it. We monitor learning through formative and summative techniques to make sure students are learning. On the ranch, we don’t weigh our calves every day, but we do check on them regularly to make sure they are growing. We look forward to the test, the weight at sale, because it confirms our ranching knowledge and work. The ITBS, CRT and now SBAC have done and will do the same thing: confirm our educational processes and work. To not have a way to measure our work to ensure what we are doing works would be ridiculous in both ranching and education. We would never get better.
So no, you can’t fatten a calf by weighing it, but weigh it you must. The weight gives information which the rancher analyzes so he can adjust. As a District, we do the same thing with the information we receive from testing. The SBAC shouldn’t be the only information we use as it alone can’t define educational quality, but use it we must.
This year, I anticipate the data we receive from the new SBAC test will indicate that fewer students are proficient or above as compared with the CRT data from the past. It doesn’t mean that our kids have learned less or that our educational processes aren’t working. It’s a new and different kind of test based on new and different curricula. Our analysis of SBAC and all the other ways we measure progress, will give us good information as we seek continuous improvement. Just like I look forward to watching our calves grow and finally be weighed in the fall, I have marveled at student success throughout this school year and I look forward to finding out how we’ve done on SBAC. As always, I am confident that GFPS students and staff will have done their best when put to the test.
Take care. Stay safe. Be well.