Is it really assessment season again? It feels like yesterday that I opened the lab at this new school, met my students, and screened them for reading difficulties with a benchmark assessment. The winter assessment window seemed to arrive just a short time after that. And now it’s springtime already, and the spring assessment window is almost here. It is time to prepare to assess the students yet again.

As always, I have mixed feelings as the time to assess approaches. Of course, I am eager to see—and to celebrate—each student's progress. At the same time, I worry that a student or two may not have done as well as expected. But I know that, by assessing the students and analyzing the data, I’ll learn what went well and what I need to do differently next year—both in my teaching and in my assessing. Over the years, I’ve actually learned quite a bit, through many mistakes, about the challenges of testing. Here are a few of my more memorable mistakes:

Mistake #1: Wrong Timing

One year, I waited to test until the last two weeks of school, hoping for better results. Not only were the results less remarkable than I expected (possibly because the kids were already in summer break mode), but I could barely squeeze in the testing because of all the end-of-the year activities. That year I learned to test earlier, rather than later.

Mistake #2: Wrong Location

One time, I tested in the hallway, because it was easily accessible. Hallway distractions abounded: noisy classes passed by, parents came through, teachers reprimanded students, and the principal even tried to engage me in a conversation. I learned the hallway is great for its entertainment value, but it is a very poor place to test!

Mistake #3: Student Ailment

I will never forget the time I tested a student who vigorously scratched her legs the entire time she read for me. She informed me (but not until she had already read the three passages) that she was having an allergic reaction to her cats. Her results were dismal. I learned not to assess sick or distracted children.

Mistake #4: Invalid Score

One student read the first two passages very well, and then started to hiccup toward the end of the last passage. Of course, the hiccupping negatively affected the student’s score on that passage. But I knew I couldn’t ask the student to reread it, because that result would have been inaccurate due to the practice effect. So, the student’s hiccup-induced low score was averaged with the other scores and recorded, which lowered his average overall. I now know I should have clicked the “invalidate timing” button, so the student’s third passage would not have been averaged with the first two passages.

These are just a few of the many mistakes I’ve made over the years. Whenever I make a mistake, I always share my error with my students. It is important for them to see that even teachers make mistakes—and there’s no better time to remind them of the importance of learning from our mistakes and making changes for next time.

In addition to doing things differently because of my past mistakes, I have developed an assessment protocol that works well and helps the students remain invested in their learning. I am eager to share this protocol with you in my next post. Stay tuned!