Saturday, September 11, 2010

What we need is... more testing?

I started at my new school with a brand new staff, students, classroom and curriculum. Needless to say, I've experienced a great deal of change in the past few weeks.

However, there is one thing that is remaining constant.

Testing.

At my new school, we are talking about more testing. Someone from above is suggesting that we (the teachers) need more testing. Apparently the testing we already have including the Provincial Achievement Tests, Canadian Achievement Tests and District exams and all the teacher made assessments that we already do are not enough.

When I hear that we "need" more testing, my first question is: Why?

A typical response that I hear is that we need to identify and help the students who are not learning. The intentions of such a statement are sound, but there are a number of false assumptions here.

Here's what I mean.

First of all, could all the teachers who need more testing to tell them which of their students are struggling please raise your hand? Most teachers know which students need help - the issue is not in identifying these kids. They are already identified, so spending more time and more money on simply identifying these kids over and over again doesn't seem like a good use of our already scarce resources.

And even if we could get the kids to show an improvement on these shallow forms of skill and drill standardized tests, we still will have done nothing to help kids understand ideas and become thoughtful questioners. While we are busy trying to increase student achievement (read: raise test scores), we tend to ignore students' achievements. In other words, we narrow our definition of excellence in such a way that we alienate the very students that we are most concerned about. This isn't a way to engage all learners! It's yet another way to marginalize the very kids that need school the most!

Secondly, these tests do an excellent job of telling us which questions the kids got wrong, what they can not do, and how much money their parents make, but I've yet to see any of these tests help me to figure out why the student can not do what they can not do. If the test can't go beyond simply diagnosing (which I can do better on my own, anyways) than what good will it do teachers? Hell, what good will it do kids?

We can't test our way to excellence for all. We can't test our way to inspiring learning and nurturing hope in every student. We can't test our way to the skills and dispositions kids need to pursue learning through out life. We can't test our way to a better education.

It's time we exit this testing echo chamber and take back our schools so that we can focus on real kids and real learning.

2 comments:

  1. You may be interested to watch this series which has just started in the UK. I'm not sure if you can get it in Canada. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tqrmx/Gareth_Malones_Extraordinary_School_for_Boys_Episode_1/

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  2. Once again I agree with you about the limited value of testing. I am immersed in the same swamp. The tests remain some form of reassurance to outsiders that they have a sense of the reality within the classroom. It is rather like taking attendance. Twice a day, the office knows who is in your classroom. The remainder of the day is a mystery and beyond that, we only know they are physically present. Who knows where their minds have wandered.

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