Monday, February 10, 2014

A Little Less of a Bad Thing

A bill making its way through our state legislature would decrease the number of standardized tests students who have to take. The reduction would take place mainly in the primary grades and reduces tests in the disciplines outside of reading and math. However, if lawmakers keep the high stakes associated with the tests, school personnel will (reasonably) be encouraged to focus on those subjects that are examined.

To truly decrease the amount of testing in schools, we have two options: outlaw all benchmark tests and teaching test-taking strategies or come up with assessments that truly evaluate students learning while figuring out exactly how to evaluate a teacher's support of that learning.

For this second option to work, we need to introduce a little backward design into politicians' thinking about our schools. This highly-regarded instructional planning technique begins with the end in mind. What objectives do students need to achieve with a given lesson? What assessments will help teachers' determine whether or not they've met these objectives.

Because we've yet to answer exactly what we want from our students and our schools, it's no wonder that legislators cannot mandate an assessment system that promotes student engagement rather than rote learning and bubble testing.  What if Pearson used the millions of dollars that it makes on tests, test-prep materials, and curriculum to commission assessments that are meaningful and not nearly as noisy as tests that assume students have the patience to deal with malfunctioning testing technology or focus for fifty questions after spending the night in the emergency room with an ailing family member? Why are we so reliant on data that isn't good data?

What do you think schools should be providing students (and ultimately society)? And how would you test that in a way that enhances student learning and classroom engagement? 

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