We’ve been long time advocates for reducing the number of standardized tests our kids are forced to take. (On some days, we’d be okay with getting rid of them all.) But when the New York Times editorial board decides to take a similar stand, we may have the makings of a movement. Citing a host of problems that have evolved out of state and federal testing initiatives, the editorial suggests that “the country needs to reconsider its obsession with testing, which can make education worse, not better.” It’s an important read.
Having said that, we still think the Times fails to fully appreciate the scale and scope of changes that are happening in education. For more on that, read on.
At a moment when we are gaining increased access to an abundant storehouse of information, content, knowledge, and people on the Web, we’re always wondering why there aren’t more conversations happening around what kids should be learning in school and what types of assessments will best tell us whether they are learning those things well. No doubt, every child needs to be able to read and write fluently, and we need to provide as many opportunities as we can for that to happen at an early age. And there certainly is a basic box of skills and knowledge that every child needs to master. We just don’t think it’s nearly as large as what most states currently demand. Most K-12 education these days feels content heavy and a mile-wide and an inch deep.
That’s because to a large extent, we assess what’s easy to assess. Content knowledge and basic skills are very measurable; dispositions and higher order skills that may be more important to student success are not. How, in a standardized way, can we measure the creation of authentic work, the value of connections and collaborations with other learners in networks and communities online, creativity, curiosity, and more? Not easy.
Our “obsession with testing” reflects an insidious culture of competition in which we are determined to use kids’ performance on tests to rank and score schools, teachers, countries and more. We’re not obsessed with summative, standardized tests because they are the only means by which we can know what our kids have learned. We’re obsessed because it’s an easy way of seeing where our kids rank. (And, because testing companies make a lot of money, some of which they use to lobby politicians to create policies requiring more tests.)
The real reason we need to end our obsession with more and more tests is because they’re not serving our kids. The fact is that in a world of abundance, learning how to learn is the most important goal we can have for our students. That may not be as easy to quantify as the what currently finds its way to the test. But it is where our efforts should be focused.