Death by A Thousand Tests

I know what you’re thinking: another teacher whining about lost instruction time administering another standardized test with no solution to improve the data we gather from those assessments –just a ranking to dump on schools, especially those with challenging populations.  Before you jump to judgement, I have a constructive suggestion. Please at least give my argument consideration that a “new” form of measurement is due.  I placed “new” in quotation marks as this form of educational measurement has been largely ignored by educational policy makers since the No Child Left Behind acts came to fruition in the early part of this century; however, its focus strikes at the heart of the very purpose of education.

Throughout my entire career, public education has been poked and prodded with so many different assessments that are constantly taking blood samples from a body that desperately cannot give any more blood.  These tests take time and resources away from actual instruction – ironically the very thing they are supposed to assess.  These tests have warped our educational perspective where we focus more on preparing students for tests instead of preparing them for life.  Principals, Vice Principals, supervisors, and other staff become laser focused on not invalidating the plethora of assessments sent their way while their valuable time is taken away from establishing a culture of learning and support.  Over time all the assessments tend to blend together into a burden that all school staff have to bear.  Eventually, one of those test samples turns up data that some see as proof that the public education body should be euthanized all together and replaced with private school vouchers and/or charter programs.

We throw our hands in the air and say, “well this is the only way we can measure our students’ needs.”  When the truth is we’ve missed a measurement that would be far more valuable toward education improvement.  We have overlooked why education exists in the first place: to prepare people for the world.  So we must measure how our students fair in the world by tracking them after they leave our institutions.

This would directly address the school to prison pipeline by evaluating how those kids’ lives can be changed in a real and meaningful way by providing more experiences and opportunities for success versus being forced to prepare for yet another test.  Consider your own schooling and how those moments that made a true difference in your life did not involve a standardized assessment.  We would survey our graduates and invite a sample of them back to our schools to tell us what they wished we would have done more to prepare them for colleges, careers, and life in general.

That graduate input would be truly meaningful professional development for educators.  Having our past students come back and say “thank you” or “you need to change this” would ultimately grow and inform a profession that has been tragically undervalued.  This would be purposefully implemented for every major stage change throughout a child’s educational career.  Freshman in high school would go back to their middle schools and first year middle schoolers would go back to their elementary schools.  The consumers of our educational system would be directing its vision and ultimately setting its priorities.

In relating these ideas to my own career in education, I receive the most feedback from former students that participated in the world religions class.  They will message me on social media still thinking about class lessons and the field trip to six different faith centers.  Those messages encourage me to continually improve the class and make it even more meaningful to my current and future students.  I directly see the fruits of my labor and that reassures me that what I do truly matters.

We have a tremendous opportunity after this pandemic to systemically change our system for the better.  Let’s not repeat the same old mistakes of believing that there is only one measurement of school success.  That mindset fails our profession and our kids.