Test Drive

I have the privilege, and at times challenging job, of teaching freshman and sophomore students at my high school. This means, they are all of age to either get their learners permit or the “real deal” driver’s license. Scary.

I’m a big fan of puns so my title is a bit misleading; still, my topic does surround the age group I teach everyday; driving is a right of passage as well as of the utmost importance to many of my students. But the “test drive” I’m talking about is a sore subject for many of us, educator or not.

The test drive I’m talking about is that malicious extrinsic motivation to

Is standardized testing a dead end for our country?

prepare students for the vast array of high stakes standardized tests that exist in our school systems. There is research that endorses standardized tests as a genuine measure of students knowledge, but there is just as much if not more research that endorses dozens of other ways to assess a child’s real knowledge. I have worked hard to avoid “teaching to the test” as it is lovingly referred, but there is always that time for review–the handful of classes that are dedicated to a few worksheets of rote memory practice to be ready for what a student will see on the test. As a teacher, I always find this disheartening.

Recently, my concerns with our obsession with data and test scores has come to a climax, a crux, or maybe just a impetuous crossroad.

In a post that I’ll be making in about a week, I will speak about a unique pilot program I’ve had the opportunity to lead this year. For now, it will have to suffice to say that the program is interdisciplinary and very non-traditional. The concept of the class is supported by good research, and my colleagues and I have seen results through our students’ participation; however, we’ve been met with one key piece of resistance from both students and their parents–test preparation.

As we plan for continuing this program into next year, we have students, as well as parents, questioning whether the program will prepare them to score well on the SAT, ACT, or their AP exams. These concerns come despite the positive experiences and data that we’ve collected. I have no doubt by the end of the year we will have all the necessary test data to prove the program’s true value; however, in the meantime, I am dealing with the reality that students and their parents alike struggle to see past the almighty standardized test.

Most of us would agree that standardized testing isn’t a true test of knowledge, but since they are gateways to college and higher education, they are necessary. It has broken my heart to see my students start to discount their experience in this program because they are concerned and uncertain of what result they’ll get out of an AP exam or the SAT simply because the class doesn’t teach to the test. No, instead this program teaches real, executable, tangible, intellectual, problem solving skills.  I may lose some of my brightest students in this course because they want to be taught the test. Talk about disheartening!

I’d love to get your comments about this subject of standardized tests and the reality of the “test drive” that permeates schools across our nation. My hope is that at some point in my career/lifetime our country will have an epiphany about what really matters in learning–discovery.

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