What are we teaching them? A discussion on standardized testing

As a high school American Literature teacher, this is the time of year I dread — this is End of Course Test (EOCT) season.

I am not worried about my students’ test scores. I am not worried about the material we covered or what my students learned. I am, though, worried about what this season does to them — what it teaches them to value. After all, we did so much more in our classes than what is covered in this 101-page document, a document that claims ownership of our (specifically: Georgia’s) public school curriculum.

Because I believe we are in a state of crisis — in dire need of education reform — I keep up with news on Common Core State Standards, standardized testing, and educational “policy.” Today, I came across an article titled “Mandatory Common Core tests in New York just happen to be full of corporate brand names.” After a moment of speechlessness, I began this blog post by asking myself: what are we teaching them?

What are we teaching students when:

  • 20% of their class grade is based on one multiple-choice test?
  • teachers are encouraged to teach to the test?
  • these tests are given weeks before the end of the course?
  • EOCTs are written using racially-biased, gender-biased, and class-biased language?
  • EOCTs insert brand names into their questions?

There are countless questions racing through my mind, and I cannot ask any one without being accused of being “just another angry teacher who doesn’t want accountability.” I, in fact, encourage accountability and collaboration between educators; however, in my model, standardization does not accountability make. There are better ways to assess students and teachers (portfolios, observations, reflection journals, self-evaluative rubrics, etc.).

To me, the dialogue surrounding standardized education is a type of newspeak. I feel like Winston Smith, understanding the truth behind the buzzwords, but I do not know how to bring that truth to everyone. All I know is: this time of year, I lose some of my teacher soul when I have to utilize precious class time to reiterate the structure of blank verse, to discuss commonly misspelled words, or to encourage students to memorize the steps in the writing process according to our state-mandated EOCT Study Guide.

We are fast-approaching a breaking point in education. I don’t want to be there — and I especially don’t want my students to be there — when education loses its humanity altogether.

Related:

Brand names in NY standardized tests vex parents — more information on the above article

Education Evolution — an cool video calling for a change in “today’s classroom”

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