Monday, April 27, 2015

From Detesting to De-Testing

This post was featured in Cathy Rubin's The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Teacher Blogs.

How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?


In my classroom, I have replaced tests and grades with projects and performances collected in portfolios. It’s been 10 years since I used a multiple choice test to assess my students, so it’s safe to say that I do not agree with having to administer a standardized multiple choice test for the government at the end of an entire year of making learning visible via blogging.

Teachers are repeatedly told that the best way to prepare students for standardized tests is to teach the curriculum, but this is at best misleading. We know that multiple choice tests require a certain amount of test taking skills, and that students who have a better understanding for the nuances of multiple choice tests can score well without having learned what the tests claim to be measuring.

So how do I live with myself when I have an obligation to administer standardized tests that I don’t support?

In his article Fighting the Tests: A Practical Guide to Rescuing Our Schools, Alfie Kohn writes:
Whenever something in the schools is amiss, it makes sense for us to work on two tracks at once. We must do our best in the short term to protect students from the worst effects of a given policy, but we must also work to change or eliminate that policy. If we overlook the former – the need to minimize the harm of what is currently taking place, to devise effective coping strategies — then we do a disservice to children in the here and now. But (and this is by far the more common error) if we overlook the latter – the need to alter the current reality — then we are condemning our children’s children to having to make the best of the same unacceptable situation because it will still exist.
In the short term, I teach the curriculum the best I can, and I waste as little time as possible preparing students to fill in bubbles. However, as test day approaches we do a practice test in small groups to reduce anxiety and increase familiarity. The best teachers act less like conduits for the tests and more like a buffer that protects students from the harmful effects of testing, so I also assure students and parents that I do not use the standardized test as a part of their report card.

In the long term, I tweet, blog, write articles and talk with anyone and everyone about how and why standardized tests are broken and how and why the alternatives to the tests are far more authentic. I go out of my way to make the alternatives to standardized tests so obviously better that parents and students see the tests as an unfortunate distraction from real learning.

To advocate for authentic alternatives to standardized tests I actively work with my Alberta Teachers’ Association to create local public events with speakers such as Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn, Pasi Sahlberg, Yong Zhao and Andy Hargreaves. I’ve joined a political party in Alberta and influenced their education policies. I wrote Telling Time with a Broken Clock: the trouble with standardized testing and co-edited De-Testing and De-Grading Schools: Authentic Alternatives to Standardization and Accountability.

Together parents, students and teachers join together to opt-out of testing.

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