This week I had the opportunity to join a roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. The topic of this discussion: testing. Over the last several years, like most of you, I have had plenty of time to think about, research, and ponder the topic of high-stakes testing and the far-reaching ramifications it has upon the education of our students. However, it seems that although research, both "clinical" and real-world, proves that there are no redeeming qualities of standardized testing, yet we are still having this discussion in 2014.
That is the same with testing. These tests are simply a snapshot of a child's learning on one day. They fail to take into consideration things such as environmental factors, learning style, exceptionality, or English language proficiency. Students are only given the opportunity to share their learning in one specific way. Another aspect that is not taken into consideration, is the fault of the test makers. No form of assessment is completely accurate (See Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley). Most know that to get accurate results, one must first gather data from the same group of students with at least three different measurement tools. With testing, all we are getting is this blurry Polaroid taken by one who doesn't have that trained eye to capture our students accurately. Instead of getting an accurate glimpse of the past, we are only seeing some parts of a few of our students.
On the other hand, let's look at assessment, the highest megapixel camera. With this camera, you
have the ability to add a myriad of lenses based on whether you are shooting high definition close ups or grand, panoramic views. You can adjust shutter speeds depending on the activity or the lighting where you are shooting. Often, there is the option to shoot video. The photographer has the tools and the trained eye to capture the tiniest detail, the ability to get a crystal clear picture of every subject, whether it's a child's soccer game, a beautiful sunset at the beach, or a minuscule butterfly. There is no doubt about the subject.
As a teacher, we are charged with helping each student reach his/her maximum potential. We hone our craft and collect tools and strategies for every eventuality. Every learner is different. We know that what one student needs today may change tomorrow. What worked for one learner may not work for another. We need to have that bag of lenses to identify where that student is on the learning continuum. With these photos, we can empower our students in identifying where they are in a standard and where he/she needs to be. Then together, teacher and student, find the means to reach each of those goals. These photos are taken often. Reflection ensues. Paths are re-evaluated and adjusted as necessary. This data is useful to the students. It's immediate. It's relevant. It matters not just to the teachers, but also to the students. As with our wonderful photo and camera, many shots need to be taken along the way until we get the perfect photo for the subject that is being considered.
If we truly want to have accountability, how about reassessing the method that we are using. Test scores do not provide students (or teachers) with timely photos of their learning or provide them with the specific details that they need to continue to grow. Test scores do not give teachers the tools that they need to meet the needs of their learners. Test scores are not about promoting learning, but forcing students into boxes. Assessment is where true power lies in promoting learning. As teachers, we have the ability to empower our students with their learning. By using a combination of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment, our students can take control over their growth in a meaningful and purposeful way. It's time we each take time to re-evaluate our practice to determine if we are doing what is best for our students. Are we promoting learning? Or, are we striving to get more test questions correct? The onus lies on us as the educators to make choices that is for the best of our learners. Will you put all of your effort into an inconsequential number that sticks with them for about three seconds? Or, will you provide them with learning that will stick with them for a lifetime? Are we using the old tools that give us a fuzzy and unclear picture or are we invested in the best possible practices to get the clearest, sharpest, most amazing picture of our beautiful subjects?
photo credit: nostalgifabriken via photopin cc
photo credit: Billy Wilson Photography via photopin cc