by Brian Washington
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More than 80 percent of San Diego educators, who responded to a recent survey, believe that time spent preparing and taking standardized tests negatively impacts their students.
So you can imagine how those educators felt when their local school district decided earlier this month that it was no longer requiring district-mandated assessments. Instead, for the 2016-17 school year, it’s giving control to educators and their schools to determine the best way to measure student growth.
Lindsay Burningham, an educator who taught kindergarten for 11 years in city public schools, said the district’s decision was announced while she and her education colleagues were participating in a National Day of Action, designed to stand up for students and public education.
“It doesn’t mean that schools won’t opt to use the assessments,” said Burningham. “What is means is that individual schools will have control over how to use them, when to use them. It means educators can work collaboratively with school administrators to make adjustments to have their site-based assessments align with their instruction.”
Burningham, who is president of the San Diego Education Association, which represents more than 7,000 educators across the city, says standardized testing currently eats up about 1-to-3 weeks of valuable time that could be used for instruction.
“I really do see it (the district’s decision) as a victory for our students,” said Burningham. “It’s going to give our educators more freedom and flexibility to do what’s best and right for students in the classroom. They won’t have to waste valuable instruction time on assessments that aren’t reliable, meaningful, or useful.”
Teachers assess their students on a regular basis. They know the best ways to measure their growth. Classroom and site-based assessments are the best ways to measure student progress and success.
Burningham says the district is putting the decision-making authority back into the hands of educators. She believes the progress now being made at the local level is the result of an on-going conversation educators have been having with the city’s school leaders, including its superintendent, for more than 2 years. She says the relationship is not perfect, but both parties have managed to reach an understanding.
“Ultimately, it came down to them (district leaders) understanding that every school and community is different and each one is going to need their own way to measure and support student progress and growth,” said Burningham. “That was the victory—getting them to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t meet the needs of students.”
Burningham hopes the momentum educators are creating at the local level to curb the overreliance on standardized tests can be used to get state leaders to step up in relation to the SBAC—California’s state-mandated, high-stakes testing system.
“The big concern for me as an educator is that those assessments are really just a snapshot, a measurement of one day in time,” said Burningham. “You don’t know if your students had a good meal the day before or enough rest. Were they babysitting their younger siblings cause their parents are working two or three jobs? There’s a lot that can impact how a student performs in a single day. I just don’t want to use an assessment like that to measure student success.”