One of the things I like most about being a Vice Principal is having the opportunity to go into many classrooms to see what and how students are learning, as well as how teachers engage their students. Recently I had the opportunity to cover a senior math class while the teacher was involved in some school based PD. As an English teacher who struggled with math in school, I was happy that the teacher had a test planned for the period. It was interesting, however, to be part of the teacher’s evaluation process. I recalled the frustration and anxiety I always felt on math test days, and I saw the same anxiety in some of the students. Everybody settled into their seats quickly and got ready, having spent the moments before the class asking each other questions. After I asked if everybody had studied and was ready for the test, I told them that I am math challenged and would not be able to off any support throughout the test. Of course this got a few laughs, but the first thing they said to me was interesting and told me a lot about their teacher. “Will we get 10 extra minutes into lunch to finish? Our teacher always gives us extra time.” Their teacher creates challenging tests, but she knows some students need extra tie to show what they know. I did give them extra time because it was what they needed, and I certainly would have needed it although I don’t think any teacher gave extra time when I was in school. Most students were done within the class time, but a few did need extra time (more than 10 minutes) and that was okay.
I asked the teacher about the test itself and her thinking behind its construction. She said her father, a retired math teacher, taught her that an appropriate length for a math test was double what the math teacher took to write the answer key. Since it took her almost 35 minutes to slowly and carefully answer the test then a 70 minute test was appropriate for her class. As somebody who created evaluations based on what I needed students to do to demonstrate their mastery, the logic of this test creation was a bit baffling. Did a time based test really get to the heart of the students needed to learn or was it a time tested method for testing? I’m not sure which is best for the students, but I have my suspicions.
Interestingly, this event was closely followed by some other teachers who insisted on giving tests the day before the March Break. While I recognize the need to present that day as an important part of the learning and not simply a day to watch movies, I’m not sure I buy the logic presented to me: “If I don’t give a test they will forget the material by the time they get back.” Forget it? Did they ever really learn it? If the goal of education is to work towards a test, then these students would do fairly well and their teachers achieved their goals. But if the goal is to create a deeper understanding and an ability to apply that knowledge, then I doubt many of these students will remember or be able to recall much of what they learned; in this case the teachers may have failed some of the students.