High-stakes tests are killing our schools
If the absence of outrage in response to the standardized scores released Monday puzzles you, consider the absence of any serious, break-the-mold reforms in the ways we educate our kids.
Comedian Jon Stewart wasn’t far off when, during an interview with Michelle Rhee last week, the son of a teacher quipped there has been “no real innovation in education since John Dewey,” the philosopher credited for reforms implemented more than a century ago.
Rhee, you may remember, pioneered new teacher evaluation systems as chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools from 2007 to 2010. The system relied heavily on standardized test scores, and Rhee was ultimately forced out for her heavy-handed — and unsuccessful — tactics. Today, Rhee is pedaling her new memoir, “Radical,” while her successor tries to implement a modified version of Rhee’s accountability system.
It won’t work, of course. Neither will the threat of a state takeover of local schools that fail to bring their MEAP scores up, nor even the push for STEM curriculum such as that at Battle Creek Public’s Dudley elementary.
We have monumental problems in our schools, and testing kids more and blaming teachers when they fail won’t help us solve any of them. Indeed, it will likely make them worse.
High-stakes testing may be the ultimate expression of what’s wrong with education in America, a system that’s been in steady decline for the past four decades, a period that roughly coincides with the rise of standardized testing.
Politicians, statisticians, test-writers and maybe even some educators are enchanted by the idea of an objective measure of a teacher or school’s success, but they seem uninterested in any objective analysis of whether those tests yield any reliable data about what’s happening in the classroom. Instead, repeated failures seem only to fuel the pursuit for a better test.
The irony is that what is happening is really no mystery. The deprivation of financial resources coupled with a regimented, dispassionate approach to measuring outcomes will by design sort out winners and losers. It’s a system that preordains kids to failure, and those who fail most often come from poor communities where “teaching to the test” is turning out generations of people ill-equipped to adapt in a rapidly changing world.
Our schools are processing kids rather than teaching them, and human brains and experiences are far too complex to fit neatly into assembly line-inspired matrices.
The monumental challenge that our educators face is to rethink how everything is taught, to apply rigor to how they evaluate their successes and failures, and to ask critical, uncomfortable questions about the very purpose of their work.
Do students see what they learn as a tool for understanding and thriving in the world as they know it? How much energy is spent on engaging children in the life of their communities? How welcoming are our schools and classrooms to parents and other adults? Do our teachers and administrators model democratic values, or do they exemplify conformity and blind allegiance to a zero-sum paradigm where somebody has to fail?
So long as standardized tests are coupled with punitive consequences for schools, teachers and ultimately children, the decline of our schools will continue.
Our leadership, our parents and our educators should be demanding something better. Our kids deserve better.
Battle Creek Enquirer