Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Brave New World: Testing or Thinking?

An argument against High Stakes Testing Accountability:

My argument against high stakes testing accountability is simple; it doesn’t work. To put it more precisely, high stakes testing accountability isn’t increasing student’s ability to put to use the knowledge they are learning.  This is the crux of the problem: the purpose of education. Why do we want our citizens to learn? Is it so that they “know” the answer when confronted with a question? Or is it so they can use their education as a foundation to interpret, analyze, design, and create? Let me put it this way; do we want our children to grow up to be a nation of Jeopardy champions and crossword puzzle experts, or do we want our children to find the cure for Alzheimer’s, compose a symphony, or argue a case before the Supreme Court?  For me personally, I want my daughter to become the 1st female President of the United States. Which brings me to another failure of accountability measures based on high stakes testing; intangible and necessary qualities such as persistence, perseverance, intestinal fortitude, motivation, and leadership can’t be measured. If we want to improve our schools, then we need to move away from the idea that “all kids can learn” and move toward the mantra of “all learners can apply what they know”. Taking a test at the end of the year guarantees learning stays stuck in the “knowledge” arena and not the application mode of education.

The test not only fails to measure what technocrat reformers want it to measure, it has a drastic negative impact on instructional practices. The test changes the goal for both the student and the teacher. The accountability piece incentivizes the prioritization of the false educational goal of test score outcomes. Teachers and students both willingly accept the segmentation of skills and standards as learning outcomes instead of how those newly learned skills and standards can be applied.  Some examples of this negative focus:

  • Deciding to use text passages and multiple choice quizzes instead of novels and Socratic discussions in English Literature or Reading classes because passages and questions are what is on the test.  
  • Taking students out of electives such as Art, Music, etc. so they can take a remediation class so they can take a remediation class so they can pass the state test.
  • Putting off field trips until after April 24th because that is when testing is over.
  • Doing away with World History as a sophomore social studies elective so U.S. History objectives can be taught for 2 years before students have to take the test.

There are many, many more examples of the negative impact caused by the high stakes test and the accountability that comes with it. What I don’t understand is why reformers keep doubling down on high stakes testing. It does not measure the critical thinking and problem solving skills reformers scream is missing from American students. It perpetuates a decline in the application of knowledge everyone thinks is essential to the 21st century. Let us stop the madness of moving in the wrong direction of educating America’s youth.  Let the teachers and the educational experts move from an “all students can learn” to “all learners can apply” model of education. Put the accountability piece where it belongs - with the parents and the local community. Let’s teach our students to think instead of to test.