Friends and family often ask what exactly it is I do, professionally, when they see me at such events as reunions, holiday get-togethers, and weddings. While these conversations usually occur between adults, my 9-year-old great niece recently asked me while out for lunch, “Aunt Teri, what do you do for a job?”

I contemplated how I could best describe my profession. Despite an incredibly advanced vocabulary for one so young — no bias here — I knew words like “summative assessment,” “Common Core,” and “proficiency levels” would likely do little to help her understand my work. Barely had I asked her the question, “You know those tests you have to take in school?” when she proceeded to illuminate exactly why I do what I do. To summarize, she informed me that:

  • They take a test at the beginning of the year and again at the end to see if they’ve learned anything throughout the year.
  • Her teacher told them they are trying to get rid of paper tests and instead take them on the computer, which she was totally on board with.
  • The test had a lot of fun items, including matching items, and not just multiple choice.
  • She’s a little concerned because she is between levels in reading and there are no 1/2 level. She’s debating whether to take it easy and stay at the lower level, or to work a bit harder to advance to the next level up.

My mind was spinning. Her childlike insights made me wonder: Are we really doing our children a disservice with testing, as some people believe? Or is challenging them to develop their logical thought processes and creative problem solving skills in ways we haven’t even yet considered?

While these are complex questions with no single or simple answers, this conversation set the tone for the day, and it was through the eyes of a child that I noticed how we are all being “tested” each and every day. For example, the table at the restaurant where we ate lunch had a box of trivia questions such as “What is your biggest dream?” and “What is your favorite class at school and why?” These questions kept us busy for a good couple of hours. As we moved on to a science museum that tested our skills, senses, and common sense via hands-on experiments, shows, videos, and computer surveys, it struck me how easy it might be to describe what I do: I play a key role in the K–12 assessment process. And as we continue to explore, invest, and research standardized testing, we can take a cue from the “testing” that goes on all around us to reduce testing anxiety in the classroom and make it fun, interesting, and meaningful — a challenge I am happy to face as long as I can consult with my 9-year-old advisor!