Monday, January 10, 2011

What’s Our Stake in High Stakes Testing?

Here is a brilliant post by Tom Whitby that first appeared on his blog here. I asked him if I could cross post it on my blog, and he was awesome enough to say yes.

By Tom Whitby

If you are not familiar with #Edchat, it is a Twitter discussion on specific topics held every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM EST. A full explanation may be found at this Link: http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/edchat-revisited/. I am revealing in this post that I am the one who makes up a bulk of the #Edchat Topic choices. We do get some outside contributions, but each week I try to lift relevant topics from the Twitterstream and current Educational Blogs to explore further in an #Edchat discussion. It has been a successful formula thus far. My dilemma however, is always when is it a good time to revisit a topic. I recently received a comment from an educator that stated he always found the topic choices very interesting, but eventually we would need to discuss Standardized Testing or High Stakes Testing as a topic. Actually, #Edchat has discussed this topic in the past. The problem I have however is that in trying to keep the pulse of education concerns, Standardized Testing is the one topic that has an overwhelming majority of educators mentioning their opposition on a daily basis. Educators seem to be in agreement that Standardized Testing is a major roadblock to Education Reform. One growing opinion seems to be that the emphasis has become the tests and not the education.

Assessment has been and always will be part of education. A simple explanation: As educators we use Formative assessment to make sure we are succeeding with our students as we go. Do they get it? This allows for adjustments along the way. The Summative assessment tells educators how successful the complete endeavor was. After all is said and done, have the students gotten it? Educators do this to determine the next step, so they may continue to build on this education. This is the teacher’s assessment of learning for the purpose of the determining of what comes next. The curriculum is the roadmap of where to go. The assessments tell the teacher if the students are there yet. Teachers can always take students beyond the original destination.

Now we should look at High stakes testing. Its purpose is to accumulate data on education. Data requires simple, objective answers that are easily converted to numbers for analysis. As a former English teacher, I often envied Math teachers whose test answers were either right or wrong. As an English teacher I was always trying to figure out shades of right or wrong with essays. That oversimplification of math testing is less true of Math today with the changes that have been made requiring more of an explanation of reasoning. I hope no math teachers were offended.

The purpose of High Stakes testing seems to be changing. If it was originally intended to assess where we were with student learning in order to offer directions for places to improve, we may have strayed from that goal. It is now used to: determine funding, determine remediation, determine school closings, determine careers, and as a stretch, determine elections. These reasons have little to do with what educators use testing for.

Of course there is a simple solution; Teach to the test. That would give everyone what was needed. A problem with this however is that it will not work. It will not work because it does not consider all of the other factors involved in a student’s education; poverty, environment, culture, and even family relationships. How do we ask questions for the purpose of converting these factors into data in order to take all of this into account? Of course a more obvious reason teaching to the test won’t work is that it is not educating any one. Teaching to the test is preparing kids for a Jeopardy round, not life.

Now here is where I begin to sound like a conspiracy theorist. I, along with almost everyone in America, recognize that we are in a dire economic period. I understand we need to cut costs and increase revenue, and we will all need to sacrifice. One of our greatest expenses is education. Education has been highlighted as a political concern. It is apparent to some of us that the call for education Reform is code for cut taxes. The high stakes tests are not being used to examine and address changes in methods and curriculum as much as to vilify teachers. This call for reform by some is not a call for education reform, but rather a call for labor reform. It is a call to do away with Unions and due process for teachers. These tests are not being used to free teachers to innovate, but rather to begin to dismantle public education for the purpose of privatization for profit.

How can so many educators on every level be so opposed to high stakes testing and still it thrives? How can the mixed to dismal results of a Charter School movement still allow politicians to call for more Charter Schools? How can the influence on education by Poverty, Race, Environment, and Family go unrecognized as factors in need of reform?

We do need to reform education, but we need a better understanding of what changes will have a meaningful effect. There are many things that unions and teachers can do to affect change, but the greater changes however need to be made in methods and focus of curriculum. The emphasis of needed skills for a growing technology-driven society will be another game changer.

Assessment is needed and has a purpose in education. We need to focus assessments on the learning and not the Labor. The vast majority of educators are intelligent, dedicated, people-oriented, sharers. They may need to be given guidance and professional development in the latest methods and technologies, but they are the best source we have to support our education system. Firing teachers, closing schools, busting unions, and dismantling Public Education may be Reform to some, but to many others this is a destructive path. We need educational leaders to stand up and be heard on this. Voices of education need to be heard over those voices of business and politics and vocal disgruntled taxpayers. ( We are probably all disgruntled about taxes.)

Now I have to put up an #Edchat Topic dealing with High Stakes Testing. Your comments are welcomed here.




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