Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 29, 2012

Forum: Testing doesn't tell whole story

While teachers in Chicago have returned to the classroom, the strike has raised many educational issues. The most important and pressing is the universal reliance on standardized tests to evaluate the nation's school children.

Until assessments authentically evaluate students' abilities to creatively adapt to the shifting work environments they will inhabit, such tests are incapable of usefully gauging progress. Additionally, high-stakes tests result in children doing less writing and critical thinking, while greater emphasis is placed on choosing the best multiple-choice answer. Work skills for the 21st century demand students write, think creatively, collaborate, and innovate; standardized tests reduce thinking to the equivalent of soundbites.

Teachers have never been opposed to utilizing useful data. Assessments have value when they are carefully written and replicate what students will find in the world outside of school. When this is the case, teachers do not object. When tests waste instructional time, however, teachers will resist to protect learning environments. What educators find most infuriating, as would workers in any field, are the slippery slopes of reform where what was championed last year is trumped by this year's version of necessity.

Solid practices, like portfolio review or performance assessment, that provide useful results, do not change with each new change in leadership. Simultaneously telling students that no one can fail and using standardized tests to evaluate teachers more critically than students is an exercise in Orwellian double speak.

Certainly, educators need to do a great job and be held accountable. Smart communities have always realized that education is a partnership between parents, teachers and students. When one of these pieces is compromised, children have difficulty achieving educational goals.

Exemplary schools also realize that excellent teaching can't be evaluated by only one measure: School leader observations, community participation, colleague observations and data collected by educators are also essential when considering the body of work each educator does.

Unions sometimes get a bad rap because the public believes teachers mindlessly follow hollow dictates. As parents and educators, our ideas are cut from decades in classrooms, as well as professional development seminars, where the goal is always what's best for kids, even when politicians sometimes forget what kids need. Bureaucrats void of these experiences are instead beholden to testing behemoths like Pearson, whose business model is built upon selling more and more to assess less and less.

Do Google and Ford need engineers who are math savvy? Absolutely. But they need employees who are collaborative and cooperative, something not possible to measure on a test such as the MEAP or Michigan Merit Exam. These exams instead serve only the business interests of companies such as Pearson and the like, which create these throwbacks. President Obama has championed almost $1 billion to develop a new national test. Earlier national efforts also earmarked precious billions of dollars on such assessments.

The truth is, the testing industry is being subsidized and wastefully sanctioned by the federal government. Are American taxpayers reaping a benefit from such expenditures? We don't think so.

About the authors: Glen Young and Dan Polleys are both educators and teacher consultants with the National Writing Project. They each work extensively to improve the teaching of writing in our nation's schools. Young teaches at Petoskey High School and Polleys at Boyne City Middle School.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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