By: Alex Wenzel
It was hard for me to pinpoint exactly why I hated all the ‘high-stakes testing’ in education today. That was until I read Diane Ravitch‘s book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and school choice are undermining education.”
Here’s the reader’s digest: Tests don’t always test what we think they do. Material on tests becomes valued more than all other knowledge and skills. It’s impossible to make a perfect test. How do you test creativity, cooperation, communication skills, and critical thinking? Judging teachers and students based on test results is meaningless. In this scenario, teachers and schools learn to cheat or ‘boost’ scores. Students learn there is nothing more important than a score on a piece of paper. Good teachers burn out and leave. The heart of teaching is gone. Judging teachers based on scores also undermines the most important factor in a student’s success; their home life. High-stakes testing is a gross oversimplification of good teaching and learning is. There are no shortcuts or magic bullets.
These are quotes I found powerful from the book (all supported by research):
“The intense pressure generated by demands for accountability leads many educators and school officials to boost the [test] scores in ways that have nothing to do with learning” (Pg. 155)
“The biggest risk is in forgetting that tests scores are an indicator, not the goal of education. When the indicator becomes the target, we lose sight of other, more important goals, such as the ability to understand and apply what is studied, to expand one’s knowledge, and to develop good character and ethical ideals” (p. 280)
“When tests are the primary means of evaluation and accountability, everyone feels the pressure to raise the scores, by hook or by crook”
“Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education.” (pg. 226)
“As every educator knows, families are children’s first teachers, on the very first day of school there are wide differences in the children’s readiness to learn” (Chapter 13, 51:11).
”One problem with test-based accountability…is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance.” (p162)
“Of what value is it to the student to do well on a state reading test if he cannot replicate the same success on a different reading test or transfer these skills to an unfamiliar context?” (p. 160)
“ The fundamentals of good education are to be found in the classroom, the home, the community, and the culture, but reformers in our time continue to look for shortcuts and quick answers” (p. 225).
“Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators and closing schools.”(p.111)
“Between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers do not survive the first five years (p.177.)”
“In education there are no short-cuts, no utopias, and no silver bullets, and for certain there are no magic feathers that enable elephants to fly” (Chapter 2, 06:59)
“Accountability as we know it now is not helping our schools. Its measures are too narrow and imprecise, and its consequences too severe” (p. 163)
How do you measure the heart in education? Teachers that care. Students that are inspired. Lives that are changed. I fail to envision a test that could actually improve education. Can you?