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Tis the Season to Test

March 1, 2016

Sharpen your #2 pencils. Stop. Never mind. Fill in the bubbles correctly. Stop. Never mind. Write your essay clearly. Stop Never mind. Take the test via the computer. Stop. Never mind. The testing procedure has changed. Again.

Tis’ the season for standardized testing, although it’s easy to lose track of which one is being administered. CSAP? TCAP? CMAS? PARCC? NWEA? ACT or SAT? The amount of money spent to create and choose the best test to maintain accountability is mindboggling. In the end, does testing do any good? Do tests make our kids smarter? do they make students better writers? Do they make our teachers better or our schools more productive? Do tests accurately measure a person’s intellect? What about a student’s physical or emotional well-being: can a test measure health and happiness? Shouldn’t values and integrity go hand in hand with lesson plans, and if so, how does a test cover that? This blog is full of questions—just like a test.

In most American public schools, standardized tests are administered in the spring, giving teachers the ability to teach to the test for most of the school year. But don’t blame the teachers—they get tested, too. In 2001, the Bush administration designed No Child Left Behind, launching the obsession with test success, and although NCLB is no longer in place, testing remains an essential ingredient in public schools.

Should communities continue to support educational systems that measure success by a test score? I don’t think so. Very rarely will an exam measure creativity; or for that matter, passion, perseverance, and responsibility. Tests don’t make kids better writers. They might make them nervous writers, but not better writers. A writer learns to write well by reading widely and practicing often: not once a year on a test.

As a writing instructor at Colorado Mountain College, I will also say this: some of my most successful students are not those who scored perfect SAT scores. They are students who’ve shown drive and determination. They’re students who’ve experienced life and have found ways to make sense of their world, creating their success through effort and true grit.

It is possible for schools to assess progress without a standardized testing system. Many charter schools, private schools, and a few brave and progressive public schools use alternative measures, some of them outside the box and others radically simple. Games and collaborative activities can be used to develop critical thinking. A student who shows up every day for a clarinet lesson or basketball practice will learn something about dedication, effort, and results. Some progressive schools develop student portfolios, measuring progress and knowledge by a body of work, rather than by an exam. A test is not the only measure of success. An environment where students are encouraged to express themselves creatively can result in healthier, less anxious people.

I recently read an article about a teacher in Kentucky who’d ordered a newfangled push-pedal contraption that her kindergartners used under their desks, keeping them physically engaged while working. Really? How about letting kindergartners run around a playground for twenty minutes? During standardized test weeks, many principals and teachers remind parents to feed their students a healthy breakfast and to make sure they get plenty of sleep. Am I missing something, or isn’t it important for kids to eat healthy breakfasts and sleep well all the time? What message do we send by spending so much effort preparing for a test?

Let’s let kids write: write creatively, write for fun, write to practice, write to journey, write to express themselves; but not to be tested.

 

 

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