Thursday, February 28, 2013

Standardized Testing

I was recently asked how I felt about standardized testing.  It's a loaded question.

As a college graduate amid the fury of the Nation at Risk report, I recognize that testing is important.  We are not doing the job if students graduate from school unable to read and write.  That's the easy part.  What has happened over the years to put us where we are today?

As a young teacher, there was never any discussion about how anyone would measure my performance.  Every year my principal observed my teaching, provided feedback, gave a full evaluation based on the observations made during the year.  We discussed what we saw.  It was a partnership.  I have no doubt that my students were growing as learners.  (I know for a fact that two of those students became writers as a result of the impact I had on them.) Yet I have no proof.

Standardized testing is the proof.

I have nothing against the testing itself.  I believe teachers should be held accountable for their work.  However, I do not like the climate standardized testing has created.  Too many teachers seem to be constrained by fears that a different lesson may not have a positive impact on learning.  I see this as a problem for students.  They do not get the quality lessons some teachers would like to do because the teachers are feeling too pressed.  This is especially noticeable in the most at-risk schools.

Consider the difference between a private school and a public school.  In the private schools where I taught, standardized testing was given to measure how the students were performing.  Students did not feel stress during testing days.  Teachers did not feel stressed either.  When the results came in, the faculty listened to the results en masse and broke up to decide how to address the gaps.  We were still given freedom to teach the material we liked and provide lessons that met the needs of our students.  In the public schools, it was different.  The teachers were told that the students did not measure up and we were told to make change.  Sadly, in the places where I taught, we did not work as a whole department to address how to gain ground.

I still believe that standardized testing is okay.  However, as a profession we need to find a better way to use the information provided by such testing so that growth is celebrated and stagnation is addressed in a professional manner.

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