F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”  For the last three days, I’m pretty sure I’ve been holding my breath.  Instead of writing, though, we have been “test taking.”  This week students completed our first crack at taking an online standardized test in lower school and middle school.  And I survived it.  We survived it!

Students in grades 3, 7, and 8 all tested for three morning sessions on full-sized laptops or desktop computers.  The first day was a bit stressful with a small set of rented laptops that were, as one teacher put it, “crusty.”  Once we solved these issues, however, we went full-steam ahead.  With the exception of a few minor hardware and network glitches, the last two days were virtually flawless.

For the weeks leading up to the testing, I worried that the rest of the school wouldn’t limit their network use during testing or that overnight some of the laptops would crash, catch a virus, or even worse, just disappear (yes, the worries got crazier as the day got closer).  At the end of the day, however, this has been the best testing experience, short of a few faulty computer connections, that I have ever experienced.   For the first time, I did not notice test anxiety among students.  Teachers remained calm as well, even when we had technological issues; they were well trained to set up the daily testing sessions online, and they were able to do this flawlessly without assistance.

I’m excited to look at the results and spend time with our consultant to learn more about how to use the test scores to best serve our students, our curriculum, and our teachers.  I am thankful that we have moved to a standardized test that is more rigorous and in line with our school’s academics.   The scores will show us areas where we can improve, which is something that our old test did not do well.  Most importantly, these scores will not decide whether teachers keep their jobs or get raises; they will not determine our school’s worth or ability to acquire resources; they will not be on our school’s report card.  They will, however, help us to make decisions that, ultimately, benefit students.

Here are some of the lessons I learned over the last 3 days:

Even when you are overprepared, you are underprepared.  And it’s okay.

Students can get just as easily frustrated with technology as adults, but they don’t hide it as well.

This generation of students has gotten into the habit of expecting technology to work. Quickly.  Always.

Training the 3rd grade students for 10 minutes by setting up an online testing session and having them practice logging in and taking a 2-question tutorial was priceless.  This wasn’t test prep- it was tech prep.  At our school, test prep is called teaching a year-long, fantastic, rigorous curriculum with connections to 21st century skills and the outside world.  It is not teaching to the test but to the individual learner, and at our school, through the lens of innovation, inquiry, and impact.

You can never have too many backup computers.

Here is what students had to say about their first-ever, online standardized testing experience:

The best thing was that you didn’t have to expend much energy bubbling in the letters.

The thing I didn’t like about the test was the countdown clock and looking at a computer screen for long periods of time

Personally I thought it was easier because we did not have to bubble answers in.

I like it more because you don’t have to erase and paper is really bright because the light is reflecting off the paper.

I like clicking buttons on the computer so my hands don’t get tired.

In the end, we did it.  We can now come up for a breath, reflect on the experience, and learn from it.

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