A weight on young shoulders

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.”

Elliot Eisner

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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  1. Two things I love about this blog Adam. One, your principal understands the difference between data informed and data driven decisions. We were so data driven 10 years ago and I am happy that we moved to data informed. Unfortunately our state, Pennsylvania, rates our schools based on the tests results and it counts for 50% of our evaluation at the end of the year. I told the kids last year that I would rather take a poor rating as a teacher than have you stress over the test. While it eased them somewhat, I know it didn’t take it away. Kids are placed in remedial classes based on that score which there is nothing I can do about because it is mandated by the state. I tell parents and the kids too that the less we worry about the test and the more we focus on learning and understanding math, the better we score. It sounds like that is your approach too. Second, you touched at the end that we educate the whole child. Building relationship is paramount to everything in education. If the kids do not believe you care, they will not learn as much from you, strive to do their best, or develop a work eithic. Kuddos to you for this post and recognizing what is important. The students will have to take the test, but we as teachers can alleviate the stress as much as we can.


    1. Hi Shawn,

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I’m really pleased that you have discovered my blog and that you are already such an active contributor to it. I’ll return the favour once I get back from Taiwan (currently enjoying a long weekend away).

      It certainly sounds like we share the same approach and value the same things. It’s much easier for me to say though. Like I said, my school attaches no pressure to these tests. It’s easy for me. You deserve credit for sharing these important messages even though the tests are used to judge your school and you as a teacher! Thank you for staying focused on what’s important despite that pressure.



  2. We just completed out “standardized tests”. Am not a fan. I did my best to ensure Ss that these were not about grades or scores, but will be used to help us determine our strengths and weaknesses in teaching them.

    1. Hi Tima,

      I always say this too. Very important… but do they actually believe us when we say it? Why should they believe us when they are scored and results are sent home to parents? It’s a tough one, especially if students are getting mixed messages from different people. Which tests do you do?



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