STANDARDIZED TESTING – CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREESBy
People who believe that standardized testing is a measure of quality education can’t see the forest for the trees. The current obsession with standardarized test scores diverts resources and energy away from authentic, meaninful and relevant learning. Consider the teachers who give students a list of words for a spelling test. Typically, most words on the list are not directly connected to other areas of study, are rarely, if ever, used in conversation and encountered occasionally at best while reading. Dutifully – or not – students memorize spellings for the test, most of which they will forget shortly thereafter. Another student receives a box of flash cards with vocabulary words from a company that charges $1,500 to help prepare students for the SATs. The message on the box is that memorizing the vocabulary words will likely increase the student’s SAT score. So, students spend hours upon hours memorizing words, the vast marjority of which they will promptly forget. Teachers stand in front of classes, deliver lectures and lessons, and give quizzes and tests. Students spend hours and hours memorizing the material for the tests. In fact, approximately 85 percent of educational services in public and private middle and high schools today is delivered in large-group didactic instruction, which is a well-documented weak method. Research shows that students remember only five percent of the content of a lecture six weeks later. They cram for exams, most of which they forget shortly after the tests.
Contrary to standard practices today, students learn best when their minds, bodies and emotions are engaged in meaningful and relevant learning, in juxtaposition to sitting in chairs at desks listening to teachers expound on a body of knowledge. Students need to participate actively in all phases of the learning process for learning to be meaningful, relevant and memorable. When teachers introduce “units of inquiry” organized around central ideas that guide teaching and learning across disciplines, students are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn – and remember what they learned.
We need to dispense with the antiquated notion that schools have two classes of citizens, the learners (students) and the learned (teachers). A new paradigm establishes first and foremost a commitment to the schoolhouse as a community of learners, where all engage in, model, and support in others the most important business of the schoolhouse – learning. In such a schoolhouse, students will be inspired to learn and achieve far above and beyond standard expectations. The result will be superior performance, which is best measured using authentic assessment tools. And for those addicted to standardized tests, the test scores of students from schoolhouses filled with inquiring student and adult learners will cure them of the addiction forever.