2b or not 2b…That is the Question: But Are Standardized Tests Asking the Right Ones?

2b or not 2b…That is the Question: But Are Standardized Tests Asking the Right Ones?

Standardized testing has become a hot topic of conversation everywhere from the teachers lounge to local P.T.A. meetings. The news is filled with articles about teachers “teaching to the test” (see a few examples here, here and here). But are standardized assessments the best and only way to measure student learning?

Teachers use many tools to assess and measure student growth and learning, which then guide future teaching. A formalized test is one of the tools we as teachers use to assess a student’s knowledge. We then discern the best possible way to move forward and what to teach from that point. However, testing has turned into a dreaded monster.

The word “test” has become the new four-letter word to both students and to teachers. You say “test” to any teacher these days, and they stare at you with a look of regret and sadness in their eyes. The bubble over their head says, “Oh…remember the days when testing truly evaluated what students could do and what they learned.”

The end goal is now making sure that, no matter what, students perform well on standardized tests. We have developed a culture of teaching to the test. What happened to teaching to the students?

What is the purpose of standardized tests?

Standardized tests were initially put into place to gather a large amount of data on student achievement. As a nation, we are expected to raise student achievement and yet, we haven’t asked ourselves the most fundamental of all questions: how are we defining student achievement? We, as teachers, parents, and collectively as a country, need to ask ourselves, do we want our kids to be able to fill in a bubble or do we want our children to be productive citizens in our country and in our world for today and the future? Are we “testing’ them to see if they can critically think, problem solve and have the skills necessary for the workforce?

How do standardized tests affect teachers?

I hear more and more teachers talk every day, telling me, in hushed whispers that they “miss teaching” and “all we do is teach to the test. It’s not fun for the students or us. “

Recently, a teacher showed me a file cabinet in her room, chock full of creative lessons to teach percentages in her math class. “I can’t use these anymore. I used to have a “shopping day” and the kids would understand the real life implications of learning percentages. It was great.” When asked why she couldn’t do it anymore, she explained that she was told it “wasted” time and took away from the skill sheets that would help prepare her students for upcoming standardized tests.

Albert Einstein said, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” Just because standardized tests can measure large amounts of student growth, doesn’t mean they can/should measure every aspect of student learning. In fact, we need to remember they should not be used to assess everything.

We must have accountability in our schools and classrooms and there is a place for formalized testing but not at the expense of creative teaching methods. Teachers need to be able to use their creativity in teaching, to be able to teach critical thinking and problem solving while teaching the necessary academic skills.

Consider the following story problem and how you would respond:

You have a file cabinet in your room, full of creative lessons plans you have used and have found to be successful in teaching your students. Your principal and district leaders have asked that you not use these lessons because they do not prepare your students for the standardized tests. What do you do?

a. Meet the requirements of your principal and district and teach to the test

b. Find an alternative school that promotes the learning and teaching that fits your ideals

c. Go rogue and teach your students using the methods you know

d. Go into early retirement

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