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Engaging our students to the end

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

It’s test time! The majority of our students are currently involved in high-stakes, year-end standardized testing. They are going through rigorous reviews and even test-taking practice as if the year’s learning is effectively over.

As a principal of a large, inner-city K-8 school, I was proud that our students were engaged and excited about learning until the very last day of school and even into the holidays. Their teachers challenged them to engage in projects that would make a difference. They wanted to work hard. Some students were involved in staging a play to raise money for an organization, Finding Life, that was raising money to build a school in Nepal. The founder of Finding Life visited the school frequently and developed an ongoing partnership with the students. Other students connected with children in a refugee camp in Africa. Now, some are working tirelessly to raise money to plant new trees in their public housing project. Surely, they will be caring for these trees over the summer. Last year, they took part in painting their community center.

How can we engage our students to the end?

  1. We must ensure they never believe the test is the end. They must know that the end or goal is their personal academic, social, emotional and physical development.
  2. We must explain to students of all levels what the tests are and what they aren’t. Too often, we treat our students as individuals throughout the year and then confront them with standardized tests that don’t align with their year-long personalized education experiences. They must fully understand what is being measured and for what the data will be used. The tests have limited personal relevance.
  3. Rather than winding down, we should focus on synthesizing the year’s learning into highly-engaging activities. Now is a good time to empower students to make a difference. Now is the time for individual or group projects that will have an impact on their school, their local community or the global community. Allow them to use the tools we have given them throughout the year to be optimistic, responsible, productive and resourceful members of society.
  4. Use the last few months of school to let your students shine. Let them lead. Our middle- and high-school students love to think critically. Allow them to find and solve big problems. Help them make a difference. Once engaged, they may even continue their efforts throughout the summer. Winding down until the last day? No way!
  5. Lead them to understand that their personal growth does not stop in June. Guide them to set goals for the summer. At their age, doing nothing is not an option. They don’t need a two-month break from the “pressure.” They can focus more on the social, emotional and physical aspects of their growth and learn that making a contribution and having an impact must never stop. Kids who are making a difference never disengage.
  6. Help parents move beyond, “What am I going to do with them all summer?” to being excited to help them in whatever they want to accomplish. For those who can afford to send their children to some of the wide variety of camps available, encourage parents to allow their child to choose the ones that best fit their goals. For others, they should ensure that their child has long-and short-term goals for the summer. This will help them when the structure of school starts up again in the fall. It will also help solidify their learning.

We cannot let testing shorten the learning time of our students. The testing process itself is time consuming enough without it signifying the end of learning for the year. The last two months must be as exciting and engaging as the first month. Let’s do it!

Carol Hunter is an award-winning, retired elementary-school principal and author of “Real Leadership Real Change.” She is president of Impact Leadership, a consulting company focused on bringing real change to public education.