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  • Putting Myself to the Test

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cbeyer@u.washington.edu Sep 21, 2011 1:51 pm

In her article Putting Myself to the Test, Ama Nyamekye writes, Standardized testing reflects the curricular priorities of a state's education agenda. Blaming the test for the shortcomings of that agenda is like blaming the barometer for the weather. This statement is silly, because it is obvious from the huge state apparatuses that have been erected to shepherd those tests and the billions of state and federal dollars that have gone into keeping them central in K-12 education, the barometer is the only thing that states now care about in terms of learning in school. And we also know that this single-minded focus is dangerous. State-sponsored, high-stakes standardized tests are good at measuring what we can memorizelike rules for semi-colon use. They cannot measure the original ideas that Ama Nyamekyes lazy student Michael may be expressing with poor grammar or the creative approaches Lian may be using with his still-forming English skills. Yet these unmeasured aspects of their thinking may be critical to their future success and to the future success of this country. For most of my lifetime, K-12 educators in the U.S. were willing to sacrifice a little correctness in order to foster creativity and critical thinking. Nurturing imagination and questioning takes class time. It requires a sense of play, a valuing of individual students individual perspectives, and a willingness on the teachers part not to have all the answers herself. It requires answers that the students cannot provide in unison or in rhythmic uniform response. It requires art projects, creative writing projects, imaginative applications for math and science, the nurturing of open curiosity, and time for questioning and supposing. These aspects of K-12 education were valued 50 years ago, and during all those years when U.S. students scored lower on standardized math tests than students from other nations, this country was recognized for our ability to innovate, to question, to create. Those abilities made our country strong economically and politically. But within the past few years, according to recent research by Kyung Hee Kim, levels of creativity in the U.S. have significantly declined (and our relative math scores, by the way, have not improved, even with all the time, energy, and money the state has devoted to the barometer). At least part of this decline must be laid at the door of federal and state education departments that link the results of tests of memorized factoids to fiscal rewards and punishments for teachers, principals, and whole schools. Such linking willand has, as recent reports about falsified test results in Washington D.C. and Atlanta public schools have shownresult in widespread cheating and frantic teaching to the test. What is irretrievable in this processin addition to integrity and students sense of their own capabilities, as Alfie Kohn has so beautifully shownare classrooms that foster creativity and imagination. Instead the barometerthe testrepresents all the learning the state cares aboutmoving us as a country quickly and irrevocably away from what we should care about if we are going to thrive in a future that requires good questions, creative approaches, and imagination, as well as a knowledge of facts. We need to ask more of our students and be more for them than our current barmometers can measure.

Reply to cbeyer@u.washington.edu at 1:51 pm