First, we Maslow, then we Bloom

Some believe schools should focus on the whole child and reject the pressures of standardized testing. Some think standardized tests serve as powerful measures of accountability. The truth lies somewhere in between.

In Eagle County Schools, we nurture the whole child and strive for academic success. ECS has taken significant measures in recent years to promote the emotional, social, and mental health of students. Thanks to voters who passed 3A in 2016, we hired seven additional counselors in our schools. And thanks to voters for passing 1A in 2017, we were able to contract with the Hope Center and bring six mental health therapists into schools to provide sustained therapeutic mental health support to our students.

A team of school counselors recently overhauled and aligned social/emotional curriculum across the district. Additionally, art, music and physical education remain vital programs in all our schools because they promote creativity, emotional expression, and healthy bodies. ECS remains firmly committed to the whole child.

It is now time we evolve our thinking about standardized tests. They have been the target of frequent criticism, in no small part because the state changes the tests every few years. In my twenty years in Colorado public education, we have progressed through CSAP, TCAP, PAARC and now CMAS. We also changed from ACT to SAT as the state-sanctioned college admissions exam. No doubt students, parents and teachers grow weary watching the constant movement of the academic goal posts.

Regardless of the exam du jour, we (teachers, parents and students) must accept the role that standardized tests play for our students. SAT and ACT serve as gatekeepers for post-high school opportunities. For good or bad, CMAS rates all public schools in the state in student achievement and growth. These ratings play a vital role in determining the credibility of our schools, whether for a college admissions counselor, or a realtor explaining the value of homes in our community. School ratings matter to our students, the reputation of our district, our professionals and our community.

The state has heard our concerns about over-testing and has taken appropriate measures to reduce the total number of tests required of our students. The opt-out movement compelled the state to make tests more relevant. Now it's our turn to update our thinking about standardized tests.

We serve our students by acknowledging the role exams play in their future. We need not be afraid of or vilify tests. We serve our students best when we speak of exams as an opportunity to show what they know, and accept exams as a step toward opening doors to their future. We should enter into the testing season confident in our students and set them up to knock it out of the PAARC. Kids pick up on our tone and intent when we talk about testing in disparaging language. Let’s take this opportunity to rewrite the narrative and accept that achievement on standardized tests and whole child development are not mutually exclusive.

Eagle County Schools recognize that students achieve academically only after their basic human needs are satisfied. Bloom's Taxonomy trains us to develop students who embrace higher-order thinking. While Maslow's hierarchy of needs reminds us that no one achieves self-actualization without first achieving psychological wellness, safety, and belonging. Few districts understand this balance like Eagle County Schools. We know that students have to Maslow before they Bloom.

Standardized tests are not inherently bad. They are what we make them. They are part of the process of becoming an adult, and our students are balanced, prepared, and can handle the challenge.


Philip Qualman is the interim superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net