A few years ago, a friend and I planned to run a half marathon. We set goals, trained accordingly, and were ready to go on race day. On that cool, perfect for running April morning, we came out of the chute faster than usual and were “banking” time and feeling great, strengthened by the wind at our collective backs. As we hit mile six, still rolling and way ahead of our goal pace, I had a sense things may be going just a little too perfectly. I shared what would turn out to be an apt prediction, “I think today we are going to be tested.” His response was classic: “I sure hope so!”
It seems to me the proper attitude is to welcome the coming of life’s tests. Life presents these challenges to show us where we stand. We learn from them our areas of strength and need. They don’t just show us what we need to improve upon, as we can improve in every area of our lives. They can validate certain actions we have been taking, but they can also provide a needed wake-up call. The act of stepping on the scales or playing a strong opponent in sports or business may provide us with actionable intelligence from which we may improve.
In the educational world, April and May often bring with them reflection in the way of student assessments. What have we learned this year? Where do I stand? While May often correlates with finals and AP exams, April tends to be a big ACT month, as well as a time for spring achievement tests for our younger students. It is important that we understand, as parents, teachers, and students, how to best approach these assessments and the information they provide.
First, there is always test preparation that can benefit every student. Reinforcing content material as well as learning testing strategies are essential first steps. It is always wise counsel to get a good night’s sleep (every night, all the time!) as well as practice solid nutrition as one approaches seriously and intentionally the challenge ahead.
Sun Tzu famously penned, “Know thy self, know thy enemy.” A little knowledge can be a positive thing, and it makes good sense to understand what kind of assessment one is facing, and the content tested. The ACT family of tests our students take at USJ (i.e., the ACT Aspire and PreACT) are neither IQ nor aptitude tests but achievement tests. This means they exist to measure student learning and are not necessarily intended to predict future performance. They measure content knowledge and skills acquired at the time of test administration and are a snapshot of learning and produce scores that can be improved upon (remember, growth mindset!). Receiving these scores, therefore, should neither be considered a coronation nor a death sentence. At the individual and institutional level, they can show us areas of mastery or proficiency and areas that may need increased focus or perhaps an adjustment in the manner in which they are being taught or studied.
We face all sorts of challenges or tests in everyday life. A problem in a relationship, an obstacle standing in the way of success, or an opponent in this week’s game can all be seen as tests, and I believe they should be seen in a positive light in that they can teach us much about ourselves and often illuminate the path to growth. While a part of me wants to go undefeated or would be so happy with the achievement of a perfect score, I know that success is not about what I want, nor should happiness be the ultimate goal. We need to be appropriately challenged to learn and grow, and learning happens on the other side of obstacles.
This pandemic has certainly tested us all in a myriad of ways, and I know I have grown as a leader and a person in attempting to navigate its pitfalls. We will not respond to every situation perfectly nor get every answer correct, but we can use our successes and shortcomings as catalysts for positive change.
Lastly, perhaps the most crucial element in facing tests may just be showing up well every day. We sometimes think what’s most important is bringing it on game (or assessment) day. Still, we all know learning happens during our first-period class on Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon’s workout, Wednesday’s lab, and Thursday’s tutorial… you get the picture. One can often tell who does well on life’s tests by who is present and how they go about their daily business.
It was mile nine where I hit the wall that race day, by the way. The time I banked was all spent by mile thirteen, and I staggered in a mere eight seconds ahead of my goal. Completely spent, thoroughly tested, and with the lesson of pacing being clearly reinforced to me.
Let us embrace tests with humility and a hunger to improve, and let us use this spring and this day as opportunities for growth.
Head of School
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