The joyful whispers started a month ago when the administrators in my school district announced that they didn’t know which state standardized assessment would be administered in the spring of 2015. Sighs of relief and plans of creative teaching were heard throughout the schools. You can feel the chains of the oppression of high-stakes assessment being broken. Teachers are heard saying, “Well, now that we aren’t tied to a standardized assessment…..” Let academic freedom ring!
Before anyone starts assuming that Arizona is completely going rogue and allowing teachers to have their one professional dream come true, let me clarify. As Arizona has adopted the Common Core standards to become the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, they are updating the state achievement assessment to reflect on these changes. According to the Arizona Department of Education’s website, “the State Board of Education’s final selection and adoption of a new statewide English language arts and mathematics achievement assessment is expected to occur in early October. This new statewide achievement assessment will be aligned to the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards and will be administered beginning in spring of 2015.” Teachers are hoping that there is a delay in that schedule.
As much as I rejoice with the other teachers to not begin the school year with plans to prepare our students for another high-stakes test, the attitude of having freedom in the classroom is a little disconcerting to me. Although the pressure of being evaluated and labeled as a proficient teacher based on my students’ performance on a week-long assessment is frustrating, it did provide me with a benchmark of how well I need to teach the standards. To strip away the constraints of a high-stakes assessment without any scaffolding into freedom could be disastrous for teachers. I’m not saying that we are not professionals, but this is a reminder that although freedom from state assessments sounds refreshing and inspiring to overburdened educators, we must not fall into the penalty of freedom.
For those of us who work with children, we know quite well (and shudder) at the penalty of freedom with children. When children are placed in an environment without rules, consequences, or schedules, they begin to get frantic and destructive in the freedom they feel. Humans need to feel some kind of constraints- we need the walls around us to know we are held by somebody. Therefore as teachers we still need to recognize and relish the feeling of freedom but provide ourselves with our own high-stakes benchmarks. How do we do that?
If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to create goals with your class. Including your students in the goal-setting process will provide valuable ownership and responsibility on their part to achieve these goals. Statistics show people who determine and document their goals have over an 80% higher success rate of achieving them. Create an overarching classroom goal with your students, and then facilitate them to make independent goals for themselves.
Portfolios are a great way to hold your students accountable to accomplishing classroom projects with quality work and 21st century skills. Portfolios also merge the elements of freedom and assessment as teachers can incorporate Common Core standards, rigorous instruction, Gradual Release of Responsibility model, and creativity into higher-level thinking activities. Portfolios can be used to track the students’ progress toward their individual and class goals, and these can be communicated as evidence to parents and community members throughout the school year.
Team-planning is critical to create higher-level classroom projects. Although collaborating with your grade-level team is important to keep your projects and portfolio assignments aligned to the same schedule and standards, it is very inspiring to create a network outside of your school. Reach out to other teachers in your district within the same grade level range, and also find new teacher collaborators around the world!! Pinterest has become a motivating force for teachers to publish their creativity through blogs and pins. The world of collaboration is out there for you to join!
Freedom is liberating, fun, and refreshing. But it can have a penalty if you don’t remember to hold the standards in highest regard, provide rigorous instruction, and create your own benchmarks to successfully accomplish.