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“Breathe. Don’t worry about the test.”

I’ve been saying this for years.

Don Gifford, Kansas Department of Education social studies consultant, has been saying it.

And now?

Diane Debacker, Education Commissioner for the state of Kansas, is saying it.

What are teachers supposed to do? Just teach. Breathe. Don’t worry about the test.

What we’re trying to do is change the conversation . . . But we have lived for the past 12 or 13 years with it being all about assessment results, so it’s going to take us a little bit of time.

In an article published in this morning’s Wichita Eagle, DeBacker shared her feelings and suggestions about the new type of test being rolled out this spring. Designed to reflect new Common Core state standards, the new assessments will feature more complex questions and “technology-enhanced” items that require students to enter numerical answers, drag and drop items into correct categories, or highlight portions of text that support a central idea.

The tests will be shorter this year but questions are richer and more complex, designed to better measure students’ critical thinking skills.

Brad Neuenswander, deputy education commissioner, chimes in as well. He says that the new assessments are designed to measure different stuff:

Can a kid analyze? Can they draw inferences? It’s not just a simple A, B, C or D.

I’ve talked before about the long process of creating new social studies standards for Kansas and the ongoing process of writing items for the new state assessment in social studies. The standards push a instructional arc that finds a balance between having kids learn the historical thinking process while gathering historical foundational knowledge.

The new social studies assessment will focus on measuring whether kids have those skills and that knowledge.

The difference between the old standards / assessment and the new?

The new standards and test take the pressure off teachers to “cover” a huge number of random facts, presented without context, without the big picture, without skills. Without the need to “cover” the textbook front to back, teachers can focus on best practice, on hands-on activities, on the process of learning, without the pressure of the multiple choice state assessment hanging over their heads.

A recent Edutopia article suggests that we need a “Slow Schools Movement.” But it’s not a new idea. Maurice Holt first suggested that schools and teachers slow down ten years ago.

. . . the slow school is contrasted with the ‘fast school’ currently in vogue, which emphasizes assessed performance on narrowly defined content to the disadvantage of students and teachers.

The pendulum is swinging back to the idea of a slow school – a place where asking great questions are more important than memorizing the answers. We’ve spent the last decade creating a culture where teachers are stressed, kids know that they don’t have to learn anything once they take the state assessment, and administration focused on test-taking skills rather than learning. We’re moving away from that.

So breathe. Slow down. Take your time. Don’t cover, uncover. Ask your kids to think. To process. To create.

It’s gonna be okay.

Diane DeBacker says so.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a great website for social studies teachers. In CA we have a reprieve from history assessments for one year as we gear up for the new assessments. Thanks for sharing this post. 🙂 Marsha 🙂

    January 14, 2014
    • glennw #


      Good luck with new assessments! It’s great – you get to take a year long breath.


      January 14, 2014
      • Yes, and reassess what is important to test, and how to do it.

        January 16, 2014
  2. Kevin #

    Good to know– what about a big part of our evaluation based on the students scores? Can cause a loss of sleep.

    January 21, 2014
    • glennw #


      You’re right but the good news seems to be that Kansas is trying to find away around having a specific percentage of a teacher’s evaluation based on student test scores. In August 2013, Kansas was placed on notice by Washington that it is at “high risk” of losing its NCLB waiver because KSDE wouldn’t put a specific weight on student test scores. Last week, Diane DeBacker, KSDE commissioner, said

      “We would be able to get our high-risk status removed immediately if we would tell them it’s a percentage – it’s 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, or it’s 50 percent . . . in Kansas, we don’t want to do that. It needs to be a component, but we don’t believe that a weighting is fair.” She went on to say that “it should be part of a whole battery. It shouldn’t be one data point that determines whether you’re a successful teacher or not.”

      This article talks about how KSDE is asking for another year’s extension to find the best solution.

      I’m going to be optimistic. I think KSDE is trying very hard to find a way to make the Feds happy but still do right by teachers. Keep your fingers crossed!


      January 21, 2014
  3. Great post Glenn — I hope those outside of the social studies classroom read it. It seems that they are the ones who put the pressure on those inside the classroom.

    January 22, 2014

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