We use data every day. Data was collected from assessments, both formative and summative. Data was collected from teachers, parents, medical doctors, and other specialists—data from IEPs and interventions. I think we can all agree that data is essential.
However, data from testing alone is not always adequate. We need to know our students, and most teachers do. Our students are more than a test score; so are our teachers. However, our emphasis on testing has muted individual strengths and success.
We need to use our data wisely, not just to rank schools or students and their teachers, but use it to guide our response to individual student needs–K-12. Also, educators and stakeholders need to spend time and resources on an asset-based culture where everyone belongs.
So, where do we begin?
Educators don’t need to give up on traditional classroom tests altogether. Not all tests are wrong, harmful, or invalid. On the contrary, research has proven testing valuable when designed and administered with the correct format, timing, and content. However, it needs to be done with a clear purpose to improve student learning.
Tests don’t teach; teachers do.
One of the most practical tests or assessments is a retrieval practice, quick, accessible practice quizzes on recently taught content. These brief tests can be beneficial if given frequently and provide near-immediate feedback to help students improve.
The practice of retrieval testing, or a review, can be as simple as asking students to write down two facts from the previous day or giving them a brief quiz on an earlier class lesson.
According to research, retrieval practice works because it helps students retain information in a better way than simply studying material. While reviewing the concept, information can often be quickly forgotten without more active learning strategies like frequent practice quizzes.
Retrieval-type practice tests should be a low-stakes, low-stress activity that carries a minor or no grade. These small assessments can be administered three times before a final summative effort. This practice effectively reduces the anxiety around testing and negative stereotypes.
What are the benefits? Students learn and retain the content that has been taught. At the same time, teachers can see areas where they might need to -re-teach a concept. No one is stressed about testing and has the opportunity to learn and grow.
Public education needs to remove harmful testing practices for student motivation, such as data walls displaying student scores or assessments. While data walls might be helpful for educators, several studies show that communicating them in classrooms can and will lead students to compare status rather than improve their studies.
Peer or instructor comments that give students the ability to revise or correct their work are positive experiences for both students and teachers. In addition, by asking students to explain their responses, the student and the teacher can understand their learning process.
It shouldn’t surprise us that students do well when given multiple chances and opportunities to learn and improve. Learning and retention are ongoing processes. Utilizing our data wisely and providing a supportive environment of opportunity and growth will create a positive school culture, even on testing days.
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