I am now a few weeks into the new school year and, importantly, I feel like I have established strong relationships with my students already. Of course, this is not just important at the beginning. I should now make a conscious effort to build these relationships throughout the whole year.
As well as finding out many positive things about my students, I have learnt about their worries and concerns. I have been deeply disheartened to find out that many of them are concerned about the international standardised assessments that we undertake midway through the year. They are already worried about their results and how they will compare with their peers. This pressure has not come from us (not intentionally, anyway).
These annual assessments were introduced to provide insightful data for us regarding our strengths and areas for development as a school. We are, as my Principal says, data-informed as opposed to data-driven. We do not, and will not, “teach to the test”. As a teacher, I feel no pressure to achieve highly in these tests (although we always do) and they do not solely drive what we do. To me, these tests are such a minor part of the year. They take up a few mornings in February and then a few months later we analyse the data as a staff. To me, they are no big deal.
Yet, it has become clear that my students feel a pressure that I don’t, and that this pressure is affecting them six months before the tests are even due to take place! It is sadly reminiscent of how Year 6 students typically feel in England regarding their high-stakes SATs. Speaking to some colleagues, it seems that my class is not the only one.
I do not want to make assumptions about where the pressure has come from. It could be from a number of different sources. The purpose of this post is simply to spread this message: let’s be careful not to add to the pressure. Furthermore, let’s do what we can to defuse it. Let’s be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I don’t believe that reducing the pressure will negatively impact the results (on the contrary). Even if I did, students’ wellbeing is more important than their scores. At our school, our aim is for our students to feel happy, healthy and accomplished. These words were purposely ordered in this way to show what we truly value most and to share our belief that accomplished students must first be happy and healthy. This includes mental health.
There’s no harm in taking the occasional test, but we must stay focused on the bigger picture. There’s a lot more to education than test results, especially in the 21st-century. This is true for all schools, not just PYP. We want students to do well on tests. Tests can serve an important purpose. But they are merely a snapshot of academic attainment. Let’s treat them as such.
“Not everything important is measurable and not everything measurable is important.”
As teachers, we completely agree with the quote above, but do our students know this? Do we communicate it through our daily actions and interactions? Let’s make a conscious effort to defuse the pressure that our students feel. Show students that you care about them as opposed to their results.
“At some point in your career you have to decide if you care more about teaching to tests or teaching kids.”
Dave Burgess, Teach Like a PIRATE
If you have been in a similar situation, please leave a comment below to share how you eradicated your students’ concerns. As always, I appreciate your advice. For now, I’ll conclude with this tweet from Bethany Hill. If we build relationships, make school relevant beyond tests, and promote a love of learning, the weight of performance pressure will hopefully be lifted… ironically, this will probably improve test results.
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