This past year, I had a student who, based on classroom experience, was clearly engaged. She participated. She was talkative, clearly smart, funny and overall personable. From class time alone, it would have been easy to assume everything was OK. But after the school year came into full swing, I quickly learned I had to adjust my instruction to help her make progress alongside her peers.
How did I realize she wasn’t keeping up? It was easy. I looked at her test results.
Don’t get me wrong — tests are not everything, but good tests are a great tool to help guide instruction and understand student learning. A public discourse of teacher pushback and parent opt-out has mischaracterized all testing as purely punitive. The discontent is understandable when overtesting and an overemphasis on test results has become a reality in too many public schools, districts and states. But from a tactical perspective, tests are a good tool for helping teachers determine where students struggle and where they excel.
When I can assess how students learn, I can focus their lessons on content that will help them grow, and focused instruction is particularly important for students who have significant academic needs. As I reflect on my own need for test data to help inform my practice, I recognize that states and our higher-education institutions naturally have the same need. The MCAs and ACT serve as important tools and consistent metrics to meet this need.
As they pursue revisions to testing, Minnesota’s leaders have their hearts in the right place, and I applaud them for limiting the amount of time a student can be out of the classroom taking tests. But the state will take a huge step back in ensuring educational equity by scaling back funding and access to the ACT. We will create more problems, not solutions.
The ACT was the best way for schools to get relevant data on students’ progress toward college readiness while also providing students with a meaningful experience and opportunity. It was the best answer to the “less tests, better tests” conundrum.
Removing the requirement for all juniors to take the exam and replacing it with a district requirement to administer the test to students “by request only” will undoubtedly lead to fewer ACT test-takers. That means fewer students will be ready and able to provide higher-education programs with a significant metric of learning at a pivotal point in planning their future possibilities. It also means that schools have lost direction. Without the ACT, schools will revert to using second-rate tests without the support and guidance on how to deal with this change.
As a high school math teacher, I live for problem-solving, for exploring many possible paths that may lead to a solution. When I consider limiting access to the ACT, I see a dead end. I see a failure on the part of our leaders to follow through on their commitments and provide the tools schools need to improve.
Let’s move forward, not scale back. Let’s work through the problem. Let’s find a solution.
Luke Winspur is a high school geometry and precalculus teacher at Shakopee High School and member of Educators 4 Excellence-Minnesota.