First, let me say that I believe that schools should be held accountable. Those of us who teach and those of us who lead schools need to be able to demonstrate that we make an impact, that the hours' spent in our classrooms really do matter.
This is important. For ourselves. For our parents. But most importantly for our students.
However, can we take this too far? Can we know when we have crossed the line and made accountability more important than it should be?
I think I know the answer to that question. Last week, I think I saw good teachers in my district step over the line. They were just doing what I told them to do. They were not being mean or evil. They were following my direction. Good intentions gone wrong. Perhaps.
Last week I watched kindergarten children take a standardized, online assessment. Our district does this for all students in grades K-10. We assess in the fall and in the spring. We do it for the noblest of reasons. We want to establish a baseline so that we can measure growth over the course of the school year.
But just because we can assess kindergarten students using an online assessment in the first month of school, should we?
The first month of school is important - especially for kindergarten students. During the first month, routines are established, culture is created, attitudes are formed. Should we take the time that is required to give the online assessment or invest that time in continuing to create a positive classroom culture?
I have been on the side of assessing our kindergarten students twice a year for some time now. For the past five years, we have assessed kindergarten students in the fall and in the spring. I have advocated that this is important. I have championed the idea that the data we receive from this assessment helps us focus our instruction. I believe that this data makes a difference.
But, what if I have been wrong?
Last week I was in a building and watched as kindergarten students took the exam. For the most part, it appeared to be going well. Many students have handled laptops or ipads before. The online assessment was, for them, not stressful or difficult.
But there was one young student for whom it was not going well. The assessment was too long, the work was not meaningful, the experience was, obviously, frustrating.
And, it made me stop and think?
Perhaps, assessing kindergarten students in the first month of school with an online assessment is not good practice. Perhaps, instead of taking this time, I should instead trust that teachers will gather the information that they need to create meaningful literacy lessons in more authentic classroom literacy activities.
Instead of using September to communicate to kindergarten students that testing and assessment will be part of their school experience, perhaps I should instead encourage teachers to read with students, talk with students, write with students. Perhaps I should encourage meaningful, authentic classroom literacy activities that will engender a love of reading and a love of writing in my kindergarten students.
The online, standardized assessment could probably wait until spring. Kindergarten students would be older, they would have used classroom technology more frequently, and their experience in the classroom over the course of the year would have prepared them to take the online assessment more successfully.
I don't know the right answer.
What I do know is that just because we can doesn't necessarily mean that we should. Especially when it comes to kindergarten student assessment.