Monday, September 9, 2013

Standardized Testing out of Control

As I was watching the Harry Potter movie, The Order of the Phoenix, with my son Andrew this afternoon it occurred to me that a passage from this movie is the perfect allegory for what continues to happen to education in the US.

Ever since the implementation of NCLB we have become slaves to the insidious blight upon our education system that comprises our constant need to test students from their earliest school experiences. Why do we do this? Why do we place such  incredible value on a momentary glimpse of what a student knows, usually through some spurious paper and pencil medium.

The Harry Potter movie made me think of this because when Professor Umbridge replaces Dumbledor as Head of Hogwarts she implements strict testing procedures for all the students. Learning goes out of the window and is replaced by teaching for the test in just the same way that "high stakes" testing occurs in all schools now in the US. Schools are defined as failing schools based on test scores on tests  which measure the narrowest, and often the least worthwhile, aspects of learning.

I am not the only one feeling this way. An AP item in the local press today describes how more parents are opting their kids out of standardized testing. 

There are so many reasons why standardized testing is so innocuous for just about everyone directly involved. It tends to only measure those things which are easy to "measure" such as recall and recognition. There are few tests that can effectively measure understanding and sense making.   The worst thing, however, is when it is used to measure teacher performance. This opens up the whole education system to all kinds of deviousness such as the Atlanta debacle of several months ago.

Of course we have to assess students to find out what they know and understand but there are so many better ways of doing this that through "easy to administer and score" tests. A I read the paper this morning it occurred to me that for my entire professional life, almost 45 years, society has been generally displeased with teachers and the field of education. Why is that? No other aspect of human endeavor has had to put up with such constant confrontation or complaint about lack of performance; not doctors, nor lawyers, nor automakers, nor plumbers, nor electricians, nor librarians, nor bakers nor candlestick makers.

What does our culture really want from the education system?      

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