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A City Education: Teaching the Value of Education Beyond State Tests

Learning doesn't end just because testing time is over.

In our A City Education series, two City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.

"Why are we still meeting? The test is over," one of my English Language Arts students asked me during a recent tutoring session. He and his classmates had completed three days of New York State testing for ELA the week before and had three more days of math testing to come. I empathized with the tired seventh-grader, but explained to him that we would be meeting to study until June.

I’d heard about "the test" since school started back in September. Teachers and students talked about the first day of testing as if it was a looming Judgment Day. The anxiety about the test is well-deserved: A student's performance is a factor in determining whether he or she will be promoted to the next grade. This was a completely new concept to me—growing up in Vermont, we didn't have high-stakes tests.

As the April test date grew closer, students in third through eighth grades began attending test prep sessions a few times a week after school, circling answers in their test-prep workbooks and learning specific strategies. I did a lot to celebrate student attendance in the weeks leading up to the test, making sure my students were there each day to review. All of this preparation reminded me of getting ready for the SATs, except some of these kids were only 8 years old, not 16 or 17.

Now, with testing finally behind us, the challenge for my team and our school community is to convey that the purpose of learning isn’t just to prepare for the test. There are a number of factors working against us: students' overwhelming feeling of relief that the tests are over, the fact that the sun is finally shining outside, and that we City Year corps members only have a few weeks left working at the school.

We decided to continue to plan activities that encourage students to keep coming to school. For example, we recently held a carnival-style Math Night and are in the midst of planning a Spring Fling dance for our middle-school students. The classroom teacher I work with frequently reminds the seventh graders that they can’t slack off just because the test is over because fourth quarter grades are seen by the high schools they'll apply to next fall.

Even beyond grades, I want my students to know that what they're learning is valuable and can be fun. From playing games to reviewing parts of speech and subject-verb agreement to talking about film adaptations and exploring plot and character development, getting creative with the way we teach will be key to fighting end-of-year distractions.

What’s more important than the grades on my students' report cards or the score on their standardized tests is helping them see the true value of education. We may only have five weeks left, but a lot can happen in that time. My team and I are going to make sure we make the most of it for all our students.

Photo courtesy of City Year New York

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