I read an article today about the testing scandal/trial in Atlanta on NPR’s website today. During the article it made reference to research done by Henry Lee Shattuck at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In his work (Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us,) he stated the potential response to High Stakes Standardized tests included:
1. Working more effectively example: Finding better methods of teaching
2. Teaching more (example: spending more time overall)
3. Working Harder (example: giving more homework or harder assignments)
4. Reallocation (example: shifting resources, including time to emphasize the subjects and types of questions on the test)
5. Alignment (matching the curriculum more closely to the material covered on the test)
6. Coaching Students (example: preparing students using old tests or even current tests)
Sorry, but as the article claims numbers 1-3 are supposed to be the ideal, I would say they are anything but ideal. I am addressing these individually…
1. Yes this would be great, and in fact would be the ideal, but test questions, meaningful testing data, and information about tests in general are not released to the public. How do we improve instruction if we cannot see the graded assessments? That would be like writing an article, making a few errors and the editor saying, you made 4 errors, and I am not showing you the article again. Good luck figuring out what to fix for next time…
2. Teaching more is not a reality. Teachers cannot change the time in the day, most teachers work with students for more time than they are supposed to do by contract, even many of the ones we criticize about not “caring” enough.
3. Making work harder? Sure, if they aren’t getting it, why don’t we make it harder? Better yet, lets give them homework, which is statistically irrelevant in terms of student growth (especially in elementary years.) Can we change this to making work more engaging for kids so they actually want to use the skills they learn? I would say yes, but standardized tests rarely promote this type of learning.
4. Reallocation is the sad but true fact for most teachers when it comes to standardized testing. They focus on how to make sure their kids do well. We all want to say we don’t teach to the test, but when you make the test a vital portion of your evaluation and ultimately your ability to keep your position, it is extremely hard for teachers to avoid doing this in their classrooms.
5. Alignment- This is what testing ought to be for in reality. Our curriculum is not quite helping our students master these specific skill sets, how can we adjust what we do to make sure our school is meeting the needs of our students. The way the article presents this theme is backwards. Alignment is a good thing, if the standards we agree upon are worth having in the first place.
6. Coaching students (please change the way this is worded!!!! PLEASE!) We should be coaching students, just not as test preparations, but as learners and creators or knowledge. I don’t see how testing provides for the latter, but I have seen it provide for this twisted definition of coaching.
7. Cheating… When you make the test so vital to someone’s livelihood, there are always going to be a percentage of people who stack the deck in their favor. I don’t believe cheating is the answer and the types of alterations these teachers are accused of doing, are beyond the scope of appropriate behaviors, no matter how you feel about testing.
Just to be clear, I do not hate standardized tests, I just don’t like the way they are used today. The purpose should be to adjust course, a diagnostic tool for schools and departments to determine if what WE are doing as educators is valuable for our kids. It is ONE measure amongst many, and while it is something to take seriously, it is not something by which we should live and die.