Last August, like practically all news outlets around the country, The Huffington Post reported on the Atlanta Testing Scandal.
It seemed like it could have been an isolated incident, right? A district with a few bad apples, a little pressure, a few threats and who knows what can happen, right? Guys like Alfie Kohn would disagree with you, but on we go.
Then I read a piece on the Washington Post describing the 14 different standardized tests that a kindergarten student was subjected to.
And then, I read a post on Good.is explaining that the ACT and SAT are gradually being phased out by a growing number of 4-year postsecondary schools.
And then, Cynthia Liu wrote a piece for Good.is explaining testing as a needed fix for public education, (but advising us to not wait for President Obama or Secretary Duncan to bring it up.)
Then I saw this TED video where Sir Ken Robinson declares that innovation and creativity should be our chief concerns while standardized testing is instead forcing a model of conformity and standardization in addition to correlating to a rise in ADHD diagnoses.
Stories persist about schools putting subs in classrooms so that the highly-qualified teachers can proctor exams to be compliant with state law.
I have conversations with colleagues who explain to me that multiple choice testing is a meaningful form of summative assessment, but their rationale centers completely around preparing them for standardized testing.
What does it all mean?
Well, my thoughts are coming together on this issue and they are leading me in a few directions. While I am nothing more than a concerned educator and parent, I recognize a few problems.
Problem #1: The act of sitting down in a place for several hours and having to answer decontextualized questions in rapid succession only shows up in education. Testing during school, but also certain state certifications will require a test (driver’s licenses, hunting licenses, etc.). Many, many other industries use various other structures for their summative evaluations: past successes/failures, previous experience, interviews, credential reviews, supervisor observations, artifact collections, portfolios. The act of preparing and taking standardized testing does little more than prepare the students to take a standardized test, which is a pretty isolated skill.
Problem #2: The program most schools use to prepare for the tests require the ceasing of the entire curriculum to doing “skills review.” Which is code for rote memory exercises of detached skills and vocabulary, often at the expense of critical problem solving, which is a skill that is the opposite of isolated. Almost every situation you can think of will require critical problem solving.
Problem #3: The pressure on our students is intense and completely unnecessary. I understand pressure. Pressure is actually a good thing. A focusing effect. But, there’s no point to add pressure for the sake of pressure. Pressure is a natural feeling from something that you know is important that you need to perform well on. The pressure to perform on standardized tests is completely manufactured, especially now that universities are starting to lessen the emphasis on the ACT.
And to nobody’s surprise, I’m not the only one who notices this. The major motion picture is on shelves ready for holiday shoppers. Enjoy the trailer.