Sunday, March 8, 2015

Random Sunday Thoughts - Standardized Tests

It seems that everywhere I go lately, I’m having conversations about education. I’m not sure if it is because CCSS testing is upon us and in the media, or if people just know that it is a topic I’m remotely knowledgeable about, but the topic has come up repeatedly of late. Family gatherings, dinners with friends, Facebook messages, and more—people have a lot to say about education.

I’m asked what my opinion is quite a bit, which is interesting. I don’t claim to be an expert. What the reasoning is behind the Common Core movement and standardized testing, I cannot speak to. It is not something I understand. What I do understand, what I do feel like I’m knowledgeable about, is what happens inside the walls of my classroom. What I know is what is developmentally appropriate for a fifth grader, a knowledge I think these other “experts” might be lacking in.

Recently I have had many conversations on what the future holds for education. Whether I am hopeful or not. Whether I think we will see an end to the endless testing that currently has a grapple hold on this country. Where that zeal for testing came from.

I don’t understand it. I truly don’t. This is where I’m not an expert. I read that we are being measured against other countries. That tests like the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) showed that we weren’t performing as well as others, so we need to change things up. But then I read books like The Smartest Kids in the World and see how if we really want to be like Finland, we’re completely off track. They have a standardized test, from what I’ve read, one time, in high school. So one week of tests before you go to college versus two to three weeks a year from third grade through ninth? Hmm.

As a teacher of ten-year-old kids, I just cannot make myself care too much about these tests. Beyond being irritated that they are taking weeks of instruction time away from me, I don’t want to think about them. How our country measures itself against another country also doesn’t concern me. I don’t think you can compare children like that. I don’t think that success on a standardized tests equates to success in life, or that failure on one equates to failure in life. Nope, not buying it.

What I do put stock in is my assessments in my own classroom. Does a child have a zeal for learning? Do they work well with others? Do they have the stamina needed to finish a task? Do they give up easily or can they persist when given a difficult task. I think these things can tell me a lot about a child.

Scores on standardized tests tell me nothing, beyond what that child was capable of for that moment in time. They are not numbers I will pour over and think about for large chunks of time. But charts like this one that Penny Kittle shared on Twitter recently? Yep, I can look at this and see cause for alarm. I can look at this and be moved to want to talk to people. To change up what is happening in our classrooms. To be moved to change.

Education should be a topic that is on our lips and being discussed at family gatherings. I think more people should be knowledgeable and speak up on what they want for the children of this country.

I pray every day that I will still be teaching when the government wakes up and sees we are pouring money into a black hole. We do need some change. We do need to help our students grow.

Standardized tests, however, are not the answer.

What is the answer? Trusting teachers, providing good quality professional development, promoting choice in the classroom, continued conversations, and books – for the love of god, fund the libraries and the librarians – that is where we should begin.