I stand before you, my fellow congregants of the Church of Pedagogy, to utter unto you a statement that verges on blasphemy. And please, hold your slings and arrows for a moment and allow me to explain.
I do not hate standardized tests.
Stepping off the imaginary pew in my brain, I recognize that saying I do not hate standardized tests strikes an odd chord. No teacher actually enjoys standardized testing, but as Ashley Rickards states, “…there is an in-between and I don’t think we’re there, yet.” There is a place for standardized tests because, when well crafted (insert laughs and scoffs), they provide insight and knowledge for students, teachers, schools, and districts. However, as a practitioner, I also recognize that a multiple choice test with culturally irrelevant information does not accurately reflect the whole child.
Shower Thoughts on The History: How Did We Get Here?
There is no shortage of memes, speeches, and articles outlining the evils of our current testing system. Starting with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and then continued with Race to the Top, the current testing system creates a culture of competition, not learning. This fundamentally changes how we do school in this country. There is a fundamental difference between schooling and education, and unfortunately, I believe we have lost sight of what true education is. So, in an effort to recapture true education while maintaining the need for standardized testing, how do we rework our current system to better capture the true education, knowledge, and being of a child?
Shower Thoughts on The Shift
I do want to draw attention to the fact that I said “rework” and not “change.” To rework suggests that the system’s resources are strategically reallocated. Why create a whole system overhaul if only tweaks are needed? As we tweak, can we consider the not-so-absurd idea that there can be more than one assessment format? Could students have a voice in the specific type of test (i.e. multiple-selection, product-based assessment, oral exam, etc.) they want to take to maximize their chances of successes?
Bringing it Home: Changing the Dogma of Assessment in the Church of Pedagogy
Sarah (name changed), a former student, and I were speaking during lunch during the first day of state testing. She began lamenting that while she is smart (side note…REALLY SMART), she struggles with multiple choice tests because they are so limiting. For a divergent thinker like Sarah, multiple choice tests are stifling. Her brilliance struck me, so I decided to interview her.
Sarah’s words struck me in two ways. First, Sarah stated that writing would allow her to express herself more effectively. Furthermore, if writing is something she loves to do, why shouldn’t she have the opportunity to test in a way that is more engaging for her? Wouldn’t her increased engagement equate to better scores? Sarah also addressed the idea of drawing answers to demonstrate her thinking process. With the rise of visual notetaking, could we not adapt the practice to assessment? Sherrill Knezel notes that she experienced a juvenile detention center where the students used visual notetaking. According to Knezel, “Personal expression, demonstration of comprehension, and confident engagement were visible through a dry-erase marker. Students who would have not been able to engage with the text in other ways could still do so through the drawings used to represent concepts.” Imagine these successes if they were transferred over to a standardized testing system.
“The one size fits all approach of standardized testing is convenient but lazy.” -James Dyson
Multiple choice tests, even those with limited writing opportunities, are easy. But as James Dyson said, they are lazy.
I understand the logistical implications of providing different testing formats. This type of overhaul would take years. However, in the future, our students will not demonstrate their knowledge and know-how through a one-size-fits-all method. Why can we not collectively figure out a way to reallocate our resources to meet the needs of the students? Teachers are nothing if not resourceful and innovative. Why can we not figure out a way to assess our students’ education instead of their schooling? To me, it is a no-brainer. It is possible, we just have to preach the new gospel often enough to make it happen. We are on the right path when it comes to assessment. We just aren’t there, yet. We just need some more converts.