As an airman in the military, I recall (fondly and with some sense of chagrin) the panic that ensued as a result of an IG inspection or when a general opted to visit enlisted quarters. Normally complacent and friendly NCOs would come undone, worried that the visiting dignitary would discover a blemish on a shoe or a stray thread on the floor.
A similar situation occurs each spring as faculty and administration staff members in schools nationwide administer standardized tests and attempt to squeeze the highest test scores possible out of students.
At one point in time, the SAT was the one standardized test to be feared by those high school students who wanted to continue their education. Now all students – K-12 – have to measure up to standards mandated by the Bush Administration’s NCLB and the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top programs.
Standardized tests, parents are told, measure what the students have learned. They want us to believe that if students in a particular school or school district test well, then the teachers are doing their jobs. Conversely, those students who perform poorly must be lacking in quality education.
The problem: These tests do not truly measure students’ knowledge, and they definitely do not measure teacher performance. Unfortunately, the testing results are used to admonish and penalize teachers who, under any other circumstance, would be considered good at what they do. Now the once complacent and friendly teachers come undone, teaching to the test, cramming “knowledge” into the brains of their students, in the hopes that these students will be able to regurgitate this knowledge on a Scantron card.
Indeed, if the standardized test results are indicative of anything, it is that we spend too much time worrying about test scores! Teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn because the emphasis is on taking tests that ultimately illustrate how broken our system of education is in the United States. The oft-cited success of schools in Finland demonstrates the possibilities that exist when the emphasis is placed on quality education offered by quality educators earning quality pay.
So what is being measured? Are we, as a society, truly concerned that our children are not learning? If so, are we not spending too much time teaching students how to take a test instead of teaching them how to learn and providing them with an education of substance? Instead of turning teachers into scapegoats, does it not make more sense to dispense with what amounts largely to political posturing and bureaucratic bullpucky, and give teachers the resources and the time to teach our children?
Obviously, there are two sides to the argument of whether or not standardized tests are improving education in the United States. In many instances, these arguments are launched by politicians who want to keep their jobs and parents who are pointing fingers in the wrong direction. As a parent of five children, I witness the frustration of my children (as well as my nieces and nephews) – all of whom are bright and well-educated – as they struggle to complete tests that measure what some government and academic administrators think students should know. The bar is raised far too high, and I dare any politician or parent to complete these tests any better than the students.
We have witnessed enough political grandstanding these past several years, as teachers continue to be held liable for a system they are not responsible for nor one that they are perpetuating. And our children are smarter than we give them credit for, too. They see this barrage of standardized tests for what it is, and our children are becoming disenchanted with a system of education that does not teach but merely measures the incompetence of administrations disconnected from reality.
Students have had enough testing. Perhaps we should try a more simple approach. Give teachers the chance to teach and our children the chance to learn.