Monday, June 27, 2016

Falling STAAR - cont.

Recently, I asked, "Can standardized testing in schools fall any lower?" That was a rhetorical question. It appears that standardized testing is in retreat in Texas and across the nation. Some argue we don't need testing. Some argue the tests don't test the right things.

Some say they grew up when standardized tests were few and far between. They say they "got a pretty darn good education." Perhaps so. Or perhaps they were just the lucky ones. Someone must have thought education back then wasn't so good or we wouldn't have had the popular movement towards standardized tests and accountability. Remember, it was over sixty years ago that the classic, national best-seller "Why Johnny Can't Read" was written.

But let's grant the premise anyway. Let's say most "got a pretty darn good education" back then. When things are going well, there's no need to figure out what's wrong. But no matter how good the good old days were, how many think education is going well today? If not, why not? Is it because the art of teaching has declined (bad teaching methods) or is it because we're now teaching kids the wrong things (bad curriculum)? I don't know how you can answer that question without some kind of standardized testing.

If kids are failing our tests, we know that our teaching methods are deficient. If testing shows that kids are passing our tests with flying colors, but we're still not happy with the outcomes after graduation (as measured by readiness for college or career), then we know we're teaching the wrong things. We need to change the curriculum. Standardized testing helps us distinguish between the two failings. As long as we feel that schools are letting down our kids, we'll be stuck with a need for standardized testing to figure out what to fix.

But what if the act of testing itself holds us back? Anxious kids don't learn. Time spent on testing is time not spent on teaching. Focus has shifted to the wrong thing: teaching kids test-taking skills instead of improving the art of teaching. Whatever. It's possible to administer poorly designed tests. It's possible to devote too much time to testing. It's possible to fall into the practice lampooned by the cartoon showing the pirate ship captain announcing, "The floggings will continue until morale improves."

We should constantly examine both our teaching methods and our methods of assessing the effectiveness of our teaching. We can try cutting back on standardized testing (the direction we seem to be going). But we still need some form of standardized testing to see if that results in anything good. So, let's ease up, watch the results closely, and take care that we don't over correct.