Testing for Equity
When students want to go to a highly competitive college, university, or graduate program, they study. By themselves, paying for a course, or through the guidance of a tutor, these students practice taking the ACT, MCAT, LSAT, or whatever standardized test will help prove they can cut it in one of the country’s most rigorous programs. Although these tests do not measure a person’s innate intelligence, performing well on these exams shows commitment and opens opportunities for entrance, scholarships, and the chance to learn from leaders in their chosen field.
At Believe Memphis Academy, we strongly believe that standardized testing is highly connected with educational equity. Without standardized tests, we cannot prove that inequity exists. More positively, we cannot prove progress in closing achievement gaps, either. The chance to perform one’s personal best on a standardized test should not depend on one’s ZIP code or familial wealth. We believe in the value of the Common Core State Standards and believe that if we follow those standards to fidelity then our scholars will be significantly more likely to be prepared to succeed in college. We believe that a standardized test that measures those Common Core standards is necessary in proving that our scholars can learn and perform at the same level of more racially and socioeconomically privileged students. We believe that a state exam that measures scholar proficiency on the Common Core standards is the strongest way that we can prove that what we are doing as a school is benefiting children and altering their educational pathways and life opportunities for the better. We believe that taking these tests seriously and preparing our scholars for what they will encounter sets them up for success, builds confidence in their ability, and provides a positive perspective on the purpose of testing that will benefit them on the higher stakes exams like the ones mentioned above.
Six weeks before the TNReady exam in April, we adjust our schedule to provide more small-group instructional opportunities. This tutoring structure benefits everyone – from those who struggle the most to those excelling in the classroom. Tutoring benefits all scholars because it provides the opportunity for a 10:1 student to teacher ratio in skill-based groups that can move at an appropriate speed for the scholars within that group. By this time in the school year, most of the curriculum has been taught. These six weeks provide the opportunity for teachers to get to know their scholars even more personally, so they can close any gaps in understanding or strengthen weak skills before they are asked to take the TNReady exam. In both Math and ELA, scholars are getting the individual attention they deserve in order to perform their personal best on grade-level material.
The skills necessary to successfully complete a standardized test are skills all scholars need to be successful in school and life – the ability to strategize, think quickly, and dig deep within themselves to have the stamina to finish long periods of independent work. Instead of a “skill and drill” approach, we use tutoring to infuse even more joy into learning. The tutoring curriculum uses an inspirational theme that gets scholars excited and motivated for the exam. We offer ways for scholars to see their progress academically through improved scores and targeted instruction, and personally as they see themselves beat a previous time or finish an assignment they might not have a week or two before. Scholars can be “shouted out” by their teachers and peers when they are especially successful and earn small prizes for showcasing the habits of a strong test taker. We aim to make the mundane magical through our tutoring curriculum and provide opportunities to build internal and external motivation for academic success.
All teachers and staff will take a data-driven approach to their instruction throughout our tutoring curriculum to provide scholars will all the supports necessary to succeed academically. We want our scholars to feel confident and prepared on the first day of their TNReady exam and we believe our tutoring curriculum is the most strategic, joyful, and personalized way to do accomplish this goal.