Teachers can learn from tests

Once a foe of standardized testing, Ama Nyamekye improved her teaching by analyzing her students’ scores on New York’s Regents exam, she writes in Ed Week.  When she asked her sophomores to take the English Regents exam a year early, she discovered “holes in my curriculum.”

I once dismissed standardized testing for its narrow focus on a discrete set of skills, but I learned that my self-made assignments were more problematic. It turned out they were skewed in my favor. I was better at teaching literary analysis than grammar and punctuation. When I started giving ongoing standardized assessments, I noticed that my students showed steady growth in literary analysis, but less growth in grammar and punctuation. I was teaching to my strengths instead of strengthening my weaknesses.

Grading is subjective, she writes. Emotionally invested in her students’ success — and implicitly judging her own effectiveness — she was quick to see signs of achievement.

By contrast, her students’ Regents essays were graded by English teachers who didn’t know them and who used detailed rubrics.

When I “depoliticized” the test, I found a useful and flawed ally. The exam excelled where I struggled, offering comprehensive and standards-based assessments. I thrived where the test fell short, designing creative, performance-based projects. Together, we were strategic partners. I designed and graded innovative projects—my students participated in court trials for Shakespearean characters—and the test provided a rubric that guided my evaluation of student learning.

All her students who took the exam passed it. Most earned high scores.

About Joanne


  1. She taught but no longer is a teacher.

    What she fails to mention is standardized test scores are never returned in time to make a difference to what you teach or how you teach it. Here in Texas we typically get out scores the last week in school, when we can accomplish little to nothing with them.

  2. Tom Linehan says:

    If you look carefully at teachers, schools and countries that do far better than the demographics would dictate, using tests as described is woven into teaching as much as pencils, paper and teachers themselves. Singapore, for instance, goes out of its way to use tests from other countries. A study of high performing Teach for America Teachers by Barr that I am reading fits this pattern as well.

  3. Mike in Texas is correct that year end test results do little to guide instruction for that class in that grade since the results come back too late for effective feedback.

    That’s why it’s notable that the teacher gave the test before the year started to calibrate gaps. the results are also likely useful for teachers in the next grade up to assess gaps.

    I’m less certain why the distinction that she is no longer a teacher is important.