Student Progress and Teacher Improvement through State Annual Testing

2015-03-23-1427121281-6465555-lisa_nguyen.pngBy Lisa Nguyen

Brandon became my student two years ago, when his family moved to Massachusetts from Georgia. This was in the middle of the school year. From his first day in my fifth-grade class, it was clear to me that he was behind in all subject areas. For example, Brandon struggled with understanding multiplication conceptually, and he didn't know many of his math facts. In order to help him progress toward grade-level work, I met with him one-on-one, partnered him with peers to assist him during class, and differentiated his assignments to scaffold the concepts.

Brandon and other students like him are why I support the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS would ensure that Brandon would be not fall "behind" if his family needed to move to another state. But having high standards like CCSS is not enough. The standards must go hand-in-hand with high-quality annual assessments that provide data for Brandon's teachers wherever he happens to attend school. Now that most states have adopted the CCSS, it's a pivotal time for our nation to monitor learning of all students yearly.

When Brandon first moved to my classroom, I would have liked to have data about his previous learning to ensure that I differentiate my instruction to meet his learning needs. As educators, we know that learning with understanding happens when it is linked to previous knowledge about particular concepts. It is more necessary than ever that we continue to annually assess students as a way to measure their academic progress. Students like Brandon are not the only ones who would benefit from annual testing. The testing also safeguards the rights of poor and minority students -- those most likely to fall through the cracks of the system -- to a quality education.

This would happen by ensuring that the states, districts and schools are held accountable for each and every student no matter their race, zip code or economic status. It is imperative that this accountability system has a focus on student growth percentiles and not just a raw score. As educators, we know that learning is a process that is unique to every individual student. We hope for and strive toward learning progress every single year.

This national-level accountability system also gives us a chance to begin a collaborative process of sharing best practices between educators coast to coast. Because I completed my teacher practicum in San Diego and worked as a third-grade teacher within San Francisco Unified school district, I have been able to collaborate with my colleagues in California about student learning, interpretation of standards, and use of district-adopted curriculum. If more states across the country chose to adopt the same tests, teachers everywhere would have the opportunity to engage with other fellow educators on best practices of teaching and learning. All educators would be able to do this challenging work together.

Annual state testing also enables teachers to monitor their own practice over several years of teaching. Next-generation assessments are the perfect opportunity to create a repository of data so that teachers like me can analyze annual testing over several years to discover trends and areas in need of professional development.

With the reauthorization of the ESEA, this is our opportunity as a nation to ensure that we build an assessment system that ensures high standards of learning for all students. I urge Congress to include state annual testing in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school, in the ESEA.

Lisa Nguyen is a fifth-grade teacher in a hybrid, self-contained Structured English Immersion classroom at the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.