The recent cheating scandals revealed in more than one public school system in this country have refueled the controversy over how testing is used to measure student performance and teacher effectiveness. Upon release of the testing irregularities, the American Federation of Teachers and the Georgia Federation of Teachers announced in a joint statement:
Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies. Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don’t even correlate to what students need to know to succeed.
Unintended consequences, predicted over a decade ago, further challenge the rationality of a single test demonstrating student proficiency. Stanford reports that there is a national backlash against test-crazed education and that “concern is spreading”.
As a “baby boomer” educated in public schools who has embraced a life-long career in education, it has been difficult to ignore the consequences of current accountability testing. In the first 12 years of school, high-stakes tests do not make a top ten list, but here are some that do:
1. Latin class
2. 6th grade volcano project
3. The report on the life of the honey bee in Junior High
4. Milk break in 2nd grade
5. Science Fair
6. Memorizing all the states and their capitols
7. String art in geometry class
8. Debates on Macbeth in high school English
9. Choral reading
A wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need time to get to know the people that you’re serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.
Test-taking remains a vague memory until the SAT for which no preparation was given except, “make sure you get a good night’s sleep before the test”. What is memorable is the wisdom and creativity of excellent teachers who allowed students time to explore, experiment, and get close to subject matter and each other – unintended consequences with long-lasting results.