Obviously I cannot take credit for this comic (or any of the other ones), it has been all over the web for at least a year or two but I see it more often at this time of year, probably because testing season has begun.
As yes, Spring is here, the snow is starting to melt and the children are numb from sitting in chairs for seven hours of silent testing while their teachers hold their breath and plead with every deity ever invented that the children pass THE TEST. Why is it that THE TEST is so important? Well, because without it we wouldn’t know who to punish. Everyone has a stake in THE TEST and everyone all the way down the chain drops their stress about a lack of student achievement or growth onto the level below them. The comic below is all too real. I’ve spent the last two days watching children frantically try to decode pages upon pages of complex text so they can try to answer questions about the author’s purpose or the most likely outcome based on the character’s actions or something equally important…except that the test isn’t testing if they understand why the author chose certain characters or why a character’s actions are propelling the plot…it is testing their reading level and fluency in English.
Back in 2009 we upped the ante by updating our NCLB efforts to include Race To The Top and continued to add incentives to the already data heavy ‘proof’ we expect schools and teachers to collect in order to demonstrate that the students are making progress towards their yearly achievement goals. I read something Kathleen Porter-Magee wrote a month ago about the real lessons of Campbell’s Law which made me realize part of the problem with testing is that we have lost track of the point of using data. Instead of collecting percentages and tracking nonexistent parallels between unrelated classes we should be comparing each student to their previous data. We should be looking at individual growth. We should be trying to determine if a student has mastered the necessary skills and concepts to be able to internalize what they need to know or be able to do in order to become the kind of adult who is capable of being a contributing part of society. Even the children are aware that the tests are not helping them and frankly, if a 12 year old gets it, I’m not sure why educated adults are struggling with the concept.
We have people making careers off of THE TEST and businesses making small, or in some cases not so small, fortunes and districts all but going broke trying to implement the kinds of changes that experts insist will make it possible for every child to achieve at 100% mastery. Unfortunately, we have no way to measure accurately for students who are not reading at grade level yet, ELL students, students with special needs, and students who simply test badly. As an aside, growing up I was a good test taker, my brother was not. I was good at writing and explaining my thinking, he was not. However, he went to one of the Little Ivies for college and has had a career of incredible jobs where he clearly demonstrates the ability to manage people, departments and entire divisions not to mention raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists. The ability to be successful as an adult has little, if anything, to do with test scores.
Focusing only on data opens wide the doors of classrooms everywhere to the educational equivalent of the armchair quarterback. The people who have never, and never intend to, spend a day in a classroom, never mind an entire career. It negates the skills, expertise, experience, and ‘street smarts’ learned from years on the front lines of education working with hundreds or even thousands of children who have presented every possible difficulty which could keep them from being successful and instead replaces it with testing. When testing fails to take into account all of the variables which could get in the way of a student’s success it becomes useless because a teacher cannot remove homelessness, pregnancy, hunger, illness, or any of the other issues students deal with. The only thing teachers can do is help their students get around the difficulties as best as possible…while still teaching all the curriculum and assessing all the standards to inform their teaching and keeping up on best practices to keep the classroom moving forward as well as is humanly possible.
Unfortunately, what ends up happening is about as far from funny as something can get. After the ACSD conference last week I read Meeting the needs of the whole teacher by Angela Watson with some relief because it directly addressed the need to stop and think about what we really want from our schools and our teachers. Take a few minutes and read her takeaways from the conference and figure out where you stand on using standardized testing as the only way to measure student success.
*If you decide you want to help change the way we evaluate children consider going here http://learningismore.org/take-action and adding your name to the list