Pagosa Springs Elementary School

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A Principal's Blog, Toward a Civil Society: Stop the High-stakes Stress!

April 11th begins our CMAS state testing. Third and 4th graders will show what they know in language arts and math. I appreciate the data we educators receive on how our kids' abilities align with expected standards. It helps us adjust our teaching and curriculum. But, I don't appreciate pressure placed on them from a world that only values scores (and, I say this from the perspective of being a highly competitive person!). I believe there is a more civil and kind way to approach testing.

As a principal, my approach to testing is not high stakes. It's simply "show what you know." I believe that if we do the right kind of teaching with our proven best practices, kids attend regularly, and staff prepare wonderful lessons, the tests take care of themselves--just like a sports team that practices the right skills that define their sport will win games.  Our field/court is the classroom and our plays are defined by state standards that teachers, parents, community members have decided 3rd and 4th graders should meet. Below, I am sharing a letter of encouragement I'll send to your kids the week before testing. Additionally, we are doing an "Adopt-a -Class" program where kinder through 2nd graders send cards of encouragement to the 3rd and 4th graders. 

Dear 3rd & 4th Grade Pirates,

I am writing to talk with you about the state testing that you will be doing next week.  I want you to do your absolute best on these math and language arts tests this year--HERE WE GO PIRATES! So, get some rest, eat well, and have great attendance throughout the week. 

This test helps your teacher see how well you learned the Colorado Academic State Standards. If you don't do well in an area, we come together as a team and figure out how to better teach you. It really helps us out.  And, it allows you to see how well you’re doing so far in your learning. It will help you see if you're doing enough studying, or maybe you might need to study a bit more, be more involved in class, or ask questions that you’ve been wanting to ask, but might not. Go ahead! Ask those questions!

Most importantly, I want you to know that no matter how well you do on one test in any given year, you are much more than a test score. You are a valued human being who carries within you gifts and talents you can develop throughout your lifetime and share with the rest of the world. You have it within you to make this world a better place, just as your teachers model each and every day.

"You are a valued human being."

I see you in the hallways, in your classrooms, on the playground singing, painting, reading, writing, computing, drawing, dancing, running, coding, playing, sharing, caring, smiling. I see you in DI and STEM Club.  I see you in CATCH mountain biking and snowshoeing, in the Talent Show, and in Rec League sports. I see you attending 4-H, scouting and youth groups. I see you with your own unique style and perspective of the world. You have so much within you and so much to offer. 


Knock this test out of the park--don't slack on it (Pirates always represent themselves well on any challenge--and, when you feel like giving up, that’s when you kick into high gear and conquer)! But, don't think for one second that this test defines you. Show us what ya got, but most importantly continue to develop as the person you are and share who you are with all of us so that we might all become better people.

Care Reigns Here,

Mr. C

I hope this letter, and the way PSES approaches testing, goes a long way to show kids we value them, not just their scores.