7 ways teachers will feel ‘safer’ about high stakes tests

Creating an environment of "psychological safety" is a key place for administrators to start

Superintendents and their teams can provide teachers with more guidance in using assessments to gauge students’ progress and design interventions that improve achievement.

Creating an environment of “psychological safety” is a key place to start, says a new report from NWEA, the nonprofit testing company.

Psychological safety is a group culture that encourages teachers to speak up, take risks and share ideas, and research by Google has shown it is essential for team productivity, according to NWEA.

“In order for teachers to see assessments as a resource and not a burden, they need to feel trusted and respected locally, as well as free to learn from their mistakes,” the report says. “With a foundation of psychological safety, teachers can begin to trust assessments rather than seeing them as a threat to their professional self-esteem.”

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When teachers feel psychologically safe, leaders can implement strategies that help teachers view tests as a resource that can drive instruction, NWEA says.

Here are seven steps that can transform assessment culture:

  1. Ensure testing is used as one data point among many: In order to be effective, “assessments should be a single star in a constellation of data,” NWEA says. Leaders must therefore make it clear to teachers where testing fits into the spectrum of student information they have about their kids. Even a quick overview can relieve pressure on teachers.
  2. Create a culture of data use: Reviewing data and developing plans for its use in support learning should become an ongoing behavior for administrators and teachers. Many school leaders begin this process by creating an assessment for their teachers—”an assessment about assessments.” Then, collaborating on the use of data creates sn environment where no one is “blamed” for test results.
  3.  Offer learning opportunities for teachers: Professional development can also relieve the pressure of high-stakes testing. PD should focus on using school-specific data to identify problems and developing plans that administrators can scale across a district.
  4. Consolidate assessments: To avoid over-testing, educators must carefully analysis their assessments and consider the purpose of each. Educators must clairfy district learning goals and make sure test supports those goals.
  5. Frame assessments as time-savers: Teachers may see assessments as distractions from crucial classroom instruction. Leader must therefore clearly define the “why” of testing and illuminate how assessments can even increase classroomt time. For instance, test results can help teachers group students based on learning needs, rather than trying to design “one size fits all” lesson plans.
  6. Empower teachers to empower students: Educators must also ensure student understand the purpose and potential value of assessment. Educators must clarify learning goals, provide feedback and ensure students see when progress is being made. When students become “assessment capable” they better understand to monitor and improve their own performance.
  7. Build teachers’ confidence in administering tests: Ensure teachers have PD and technical support so they can develop skills for administering assessments.

“Relieving the pressure of high-stakes testing is a team effort,” the report concludes. “When teachers experience psychological safety, are supported by leaders, understand the value of data, and feel their time is respected, both students and teachers perform better, and the “burden” of testing is transformed into a culture that uplifts everyone.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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