Creating a Positive Testing Experience for Kids

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by Kit Tollerson
Principal, Brilliant Minds

Assessments are essential for educators. End of the year state tests, quarterly benchmarks, daily exit tickets and checks for understanding during instruction all tell us what our students have learned and what we still need to teach them. With this information, teachers are able to personalize the learning experience for each student, school leaders can determine how we support our instructional staff with coaching and resources, and parents are equipped with the information they need to support their students’ learning at home.

All that being said, it’s also easy to understand why high-stakes testing is controversial. The argument against testing that resonates most with me is the fact that it can be quite a stressful experience for a kid, especially an elementary-aged one.

However, we as educators can and should shield our students from the pressure that a high-stakes test can cause. End of the year assessments are an opportunity for kids to have a positive experience showing the academic progress they have made from a school year’s worth of hard work. As their teachers, it is up to us to determine whether they see it that way or not.

At Rocketship, we build a positive culture around testing. Our teachers frame the state test for our Rocketeers as a special opportunity to show what they’ve learned throughout the entire year. With community experiences like pep rallies, motivational efforts like school-wide goals and silly things like staff-created music videos about testing strategies, we transform the big, scary state test into something our students actually look forward to. As a result, our families and school staff are able to learn from the valuable information that the assessment provides and our kids have fun time with state test, rather than negative and stressful experience.

Kit Tollerson is the Founding Principal of Rocketship’s sixth school, Rocketship Brilliant Minds, the highest performing elementary school in the Alum Rock neighborhood of San Jose. He was previously the Assistant Principal on the founding team for the fourth Rocketship school. Kit began his career in education as a Teach For America corps member in New Orleans, where he was a founding teacher at Arthur Ashe Charter School and later became the Dean of Students.

Kit grew up in New York City and was fortunate to attend Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, where he developed the passion for learning that inspired him to pursue a career in education. Kit earned his undergraduate degree in public policy from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson school as well as a certificate in American Studies. He also received a master’s degree in school leadership at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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