As I begin my tenth year as the superintendent of the Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut, an urban district with over 8,500 students (over 70 percent minority and over 70 percent receiving free and reduced meals), I am convinced that it is not the standardized test that is the problem. Rather, the issue is how some districts are using these scores.
With an eighth-grade daughter and a seventh-grade son in our school district, I write this reflective piece as a parent and an educator. Standardized testing is not the enemy!
Despite numerous parents exempting their children, urban communities feeling targeted, and elite private school communities ignoring standardized tests altogether, annual standardized testing can, and should, have a place in our efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
I know some naysayers will share that every child is unique and results are impacted by societal challenges, and I would agree. I know others will question the time it takes to give the tests and the amount of time dedicated to test preparation, and I would agree. I know others will argue that the test does not clearly define all that a student knows and can do, and, again, I would agree.
However, what I want for my own children and all children in the Meriden Public Schools is to attend schools where they feel challenged and supported—schools that allow them to grow and improve every year.
Yearly standardized testing allows us to:
- Know where each student is academically on English Language Arts and Math.
- Guide individual student’s goals and performance targets.
- Allow for strategic placement of instructional coaches and teacher supports.
- Honor and celebrate teachers whose students are progressing and growing at above average rates.
The world is competitive. Our students and staff need to embrace the challenge and be open to support. Our parents and community have a right to know that their investment in education is working, that students are learning more and more every year.
Districts committed to student success have standardized curriculum, pacing guidelines, and common formative assessments; but more importantly, they empower teachers to determine when students need more time, additional practice, greater challenges, or more voice and choice. They understand the balance between the power of learning and the pressure of standardized testing performance.
Our parents and community have a right to know that their investment in education is working, that students are learning more and more every year.
In Meriden, we have developed exceptional relationships with management and our unions. This has led to private foundation funding and unique grant opportunities. I am lucky to have union leaders and over 600 teachers who understand, appreciate, and value student growth and the importance of being able to answer the essential question,”How do we know that what we are doing is working for our students?
By looking at matched student growth scores, (through the district, school, and teacher lens), we have realized our highest test scores in district history, coupled with an over 80 percent reduction in school exclusions.
Our teachers have not only embraced the challenges of standardized testing and restorative practices, but they are also the ones leading the charge. Our Board of Education honors teachers with a plaque for their room when their students exceed state growth by over five percent. Data also reveals improved attendance and school satisfaction, for both students and staff.
All major performance indicators have improved because there is a healthy balance between giving students voice and choice and valuing student growth on yearly standardized tests. In closing, I respect our great teachers, and I know how hard they work. Together, we are creating schools where students and staff want to be, and standardized testing still has a key place in our district’s improvement efforts.
Mark D. Benigni is superintendent of the Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut.