A short-sighted sprint to measurable glory

A few months back, I was tagged by Patrick Higgins to write an entry for the “This I Believe” meme series that has been making its way around the blogosphere.  In response, I churned out this fun piece on how educators can learn a ton about teaching and learning from attending middle school dances!

As often happens in the meme world, I’ve been tagged again—-This time by one of my favorite Twits, Kevin Jarrett over at NCS Tech.  Kevin’s a brilliant blogger who shares pretty remarkable resources all the time.  What’s more, I just plain loved his This I Believe meme because it emphasized the importance of teachers taking responsibility for results—a strand that has been running through my mind lately.

Having enjoyed the opportunity to write a This I Believe meme the first time, I figured I’d give it another whirl.  Only this time around, I figured I’d write about standardized testing.  It’s perfect timing for me, considering we just finished giving our exams this week:

Administering an end of grade standardized test could be one of the single most boring acts in the life of a classroom teacher.  Passing out dozens of Number 2 pencils, instructing students in the finer points of bubbling multiple choice answer sheets, reading scripted directions from an 88-page manual and doing my best not to nod off, I waded into the testing haze once again this week.

Having taught for fifteen years, this annual tradition is really no surprise to me.  In fact, testing is something that I’ve often defended despite my own misgivings because it is a tool for measurement that has been embraced by the general public—-and the general public pays my salary!

But this year’s testing was different.  I’m not sure why, but halfway through Wednesday’s reading exam, I found myself quietly crying.

You see, I was looking out over a classroom of kids that I know as beautifully complex creatures.  They’re inquisitive and curious, embracing challenging questions about the inherent justice and injustice in the world.  They’ve wrestled with the idea of standing up to power and tried to explain the origins of hate.  They’ve had their thinking challenged and challenged the thinking of others time and again over the past 180 days.

They’ve explored music and art, seeing beauty and understanding the importance of design.  They’re humorous—and they tend to find joy even in the most challenging circumstances.  Almost all have personal passions, developing levels of mastery in areas ranging from dirt biking and skateboarding to writing and dance. They’ve shown compassion, demonstrated respect, and developed an attitude of exploration.

Each is learning about  himself, his friends and our world every day. 

But in the end, none of that “growth” will matter.  Instead, my students—and your children—will be defined by one mystical number generated from a collection of answers on one multiple choice exam given on one day in June.

As I tried to gather myself in the back of the room, I wondered what the consequences of our commitment to rigid promotion standards based on standardized exams will be.  Will schools push right-brained activities further into the background in a short-sighted sprint to “measurable glory?”  Have other teachers been forced to compromise what they know about the kids in their class in an attempt to simply make the grade?

How many students will see themselves as failures because their “results” don’t “meet or exceed expectations?”  Are we sure that an unbending emphasis on the skills measured by multiple choice tests will bring our children success in a poorly defined future—-and what are the consequences if we are wrong?

“This isn’t an issue you can fix today,” I whispered to myself before returning to the mechanical directions and procedures of exam day, “But someone has to rethink testing

This I believe.”

Now, for a bit of tagging.  I’d love to see “This, I Believe” pieces from:

John Holland at Circle Time:  Lead from the Start

Ariel Sacks at On the Shoulders of Giants

Any of the Brilliant Folks at In Practice

Here are the directions for this meme:

Barry Bachenheimer started this on a whim today, and tagged me with it to get it going. Most memes have very definitive rules for passing along or posting certain material, but Barry has given this one some really free “legs.” It’s description is simple:

National Public Radio does a piece called “This We Believe” where individuals share essays they have written that enumerates their philosophies. With this concept in mind in terms of curriculum ideas, (with apologies to the National Middle School Association and National Public Radio), “This I Believe.”