April 26, 2012

"Mr. Russell, why don't you like testing?"

This was a question posed to me by a 7th grade English student yesterday. The question seems somewhat innocuous, but from my standpoint it is incredibly harmful.

Why is it harmful? The question suggests that the student does not see a problem with testing. But, instead of laying a long diatribe on her, I worked through it with her logically.

Me: What is the point of giving a test?
Student: To see what we know and what we don't know.
Me: Good - what do you think should happen if a student doesn't know something?
Student: They should get the opportunity to learn it.
Me: Awesome! Now, do you get the results for these tests?
Another student: Yes, but not until some time in the summer.
Me: Does that give you the opportunity to revisit the things you didn't know this school year?
Student: No, not really.
Me: Is it likely that your next year teacher will find the results incredibly helpful and then reteach you the specific things that you did not get?
Student: No.
Me: So, what is the point in taking the test?
Student: I don't know...
Me: Could it be an opportunity to point out what you don't know to punish you, the school, your teacher, or maybe all of the above if you don't score high enough?
Student: I never thought of it that way...

Standardized Testing is not about education. It's not about accountability. Standardized Testing was a system put in place so that lawmakers could make it seem like they were being active and doing their jobs. But, as I have been trying to explain to students as we work through a unit on Service Learning, you can't solve one problem while simultaneously creating another. Political accountability is not equitable to educational accountability.

If I'm going to give a student a test, it better be because I want to find out what they do and do not know in order to guide my teaching and their learning. How many times have we seen on television the "Teacher" give a pop quiz as a punishment? Learning should not be a punishment. It should be an experience and preferably one of joy, excitement, and at the very least, engagement.

In my own classes, where I have control, I don't give tests - not the traditional kind at least. I have my students demonstrate their knowledge and skills through authentic work. It's the only way I can see what they can really do.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't this seem inappropriate to be posting publicly? Think first sir!

Jeff Russell said...

I don't think that it's inappropriate to be posting publicly.

Nothing in my post is meant to attack an individual, nor did I identify either of the students which I was speaking.

I am one of many in education that does not believe that standardized testing is accomplishing the goals for which it was designed. I also believe that it's important that we recognize the skewed views that students have about testing.

Ignoring the problem, or just keeping it somehow private is not the answer. We need to speak out so the powers that be can know the truth.