As engaging educators, we are completely in favor of assessments. Teaching without assessment is like driving in a new city without a map. You know the place you need to get to, but you have no idea how to get there. You might randomly stumble upon your destination, but not without a lot of wrong turns, frustration, and dead ends. So, just to be clear, it’s not assessments we don’t like, it’s meaningless, arbitrary standardized testing. We think it’s time to start de-standardize education and focus on what’s important: learning.
One of the reasons we are opposed to this kind of standardized testing is that there are so many critical things that standardized tests aren’t assessing. Among these things are vital skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and the abilities to ask good questions and collaborate, and others. Teachers everywhere in America are practically being forced to ignore these skills because their teaching is driven by standards. All too often this translates into memorization and worksheets. The end result includes students who under-perform, who aren’t developing thinking skills, and who aren’t ready for college or the global workforce. And also, students who aren’t engaged and aren’t enjoying school, two more things that standardized tests can’t assess.
So, what to do as educators in this standards-driven time? To openly rebel and refuse to prepare our students for standardized tests, we’d be jeopardizing our jobs. But to sit by and continue teaching to the test with rote memorization, drill and kill, and worksheet after worksheet is an utter disservice to our students and their families. Can a balance be achieved? I think it can, but not without a lot of work. And not without the support of your building and district administrator. And not without a paradigm shift in colleges of education. And not without parents who support teaching and learning.
That’s certainly a lot of angles. But the fact that there’s so many drives us to work hard. There’s a lot to do in order to prove that these skills that aren’t being assessed are what’s most important. Where can you start? Take a lesson you’ll be teaching soon, or one that you’ve taught recently. Look it over. Did you ask your students any “Why” questions? Did you ask them to explain their thinking? Did they discuss with each other? Were there opportunities for ALL students to contribute actively, or were just a couple of students the ones speaking up and getting called on?
These are just a few things we can do to “de-standardize” education. Doing so will create a nation of learners and thinkers. How can that be a bad thing? Join the movement to make education about students, not test scores. You won’t be alone. Luckily there are a lot of people out there working to do the same. You can find them tweeting and blogging pretty much all day every day. They inspire us and their work has helped to form our own opinions. Get involved, speak up, and make change.
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