I asked my son if there was anything unique or interesting about school today (I admit I feel like the Dad in the old Crackerjack Commercial). He said, “No, not really. PSSA’s.” I think generally speaking his view of hell these days is an afterlife spent in school taking PSSA tests. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t rant again….Except to say that the view of schooling this regimen seems to imply stands in contrast to the kinds of things I took up earlier today in thinking about the kinds of personal investments we make and personal rewards we gain from the highly individual and completely compelling journeys that we get to go on with our students over the years. This transformative relationship that is born in a mutual journey in learning is missed in our current obsession with standardized measurements.
Let me hasten to say that this doesn’t mean we have to be against assessment. I happen to be the chair of our steering committee for our Middle States accreditation (Oh, Happy, Happy Day!), and I am a firm believer in assessing what we are doing and evaluating how well our students are learning. On the other hand, our methods should be as subtle as the human hearts and minds whose stock we are taking. Such subtlety takes time and, not incidentally, money–something in short supply in both educational systems and their monitors. The result is standardized tests that result in…well, standardized expectations and standardized students, producing students who are good at taking tests. Is this what an education is for?
As it happens, I ran across another article by Diane Ravitch. Ravitch seems to be in the air when I have these conversations with my son. She says it better than I do anyway:
At present, the standardized tests are used inappropriately. There should be no stakes attached to them. Decisions about teacher evaluation should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about bonuses should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about closing schools should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about retaining students should not be tied to student scores. All of these are weighty decisions that should be made by experienced professionals, taking into consideration a variety of factors specific to the child, the teacher, and the school.
Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers. The more we rely on high-stakes standardized tests, the more we destroy students’ creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to think differently, and the more we demoralize teachers. The important decisions that each of us will face in our lives cannot be narrowed to one of four bubbles. We must prepare students to live in the world, not to comply on command.
I am happy that I have had many students that did not comply on command and could not be defined by the bubbles they filled out. It must be some kind of testimony to the human spirit that they survived the education we have foisted on them in the name of achievement.