CSS proposes changes in testing policies

October 22, 2015 — by Fiona Sequeira

Every month, principal Paul Robinson has been meeting with Challenge Student Stress (CSS), a parent-led task force concerned with reducing student stress. He is sometimes joined by superintendent Bob Mistele.

If you find yourself anxious at the possibility of having a high-stakes test in every single class on the same day this semester, your plight is beginning to gain some attention, and soon there might be more ways of avoiding this situation.

Every month, principal Paul Robinson has been meeting with Challenge Student Stress (CSS), a parent-led task force concerned with reducing student stress. He is sometimes joined by superintendent Bob Mistele.

Lately, a big topic for discussion has been testing policies, such as when students have multiple tests lined up on the same day. To give students an out and reduce their stress, the administration is in the early stages of considering a “get out of jail free card” for each student that he or she use once per semester in a particular class in order to reschedule a test for a more convenient date.

According to Robinson, the leadership team, comprised of department chairs and administration, is still wrestling with what exactly this system would look like, or if implementing a policy is even necessary.

“Many teachers are already willing to work with students to reschedule a test on a particularly stressful day,” Robinson said. “[But] sometimes, in creating a policy and making everyone follow it, you eliminate the creativity and other things people do when certain situations arise, and the policy becomes more of a hindrance than a help.”

Teachers have also been encouraged to collaborate with each other in order to reduce the likelihood of a student having multiple big tests on a single day. Additionally, the administration is working with the district-level Bell Schedule Committee to finalize a full block bell schedule for next year that creates the least amount of student stress.

Another area that CSS is working with the administration on is policies surrounding handing back tests to students. According to Robinson, a group within CSS wants every teacher to hand tests back so that students can review the test with their parents or a tutor in order to perform better on future tests.

The current policy regarding handing back tests is not uniform. Some teachers hand them back for students to keep and others do not, while others hand back quizzes but not tests. To avoid test integrity issues, many teachers currently prefer going over tests in class and setting up an appointment to review a particular test with a student during tutorial or at other times.

Ideally, Robinson said, students can develop strong working relationships with their teachers and can benefit from whatever a particular teacher’s policy is.

“I’m not a huge proponent of demanding that every test go home, as teachers use and value tests in so many different ways,” Robinson said. “The teacher is the expert educator and the one who is going to make the biggest difference in working with a student, not a parent or an outside tutor.”

Robinson is trying to help the Saratoga community understand that learning how to deal with stress is an important skill that promotes student resiliency.

“We want students to be prepared by a challenging curriculum so that when an opportunity arises, they can grasp it,” Robinson said. “It’s a real dynamic tension between how hard we push students here and how much we should release them so that they don’t experience unhealthy stress that hurts them.”

Ultimately, Robinson said these and other conversations are helping to foster an environment that alleviates student stress.

“We ask ourselves, what are the things we can control, and how can we make a difference with students in the long run? That’s what we continue to focus on,” he said.

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