In the movie, On The Waterfront the main character, Terry, played by Marlon Brando had a discussion with his brother, Charlie, played by Rod Steiger. The discussion explained how the big brother talked the younger brother to ignore his beliefs in himself and take a dive in a fight. In trusting his older brother’s advice the younger brother asked, “what do I get? a one way ticket to palookaville You was my brother Charlie, you should’ve looked out for me …”. It is with that image of a discussion in the back of a mob-owned Limo that I will now make this post.
Teachers need assessments. We need to assess what students know, in order to determine what it is we need to teach. We need to assess how effective our teaching is with our students, so that we can move forward, change direction, or go back for a better take. In assessing the learning of our students we can be creative. We can use Tests, Rubrics, Projects, or Portfolios developed in accordance with those who are being assessed, the students. Assessments are both needed and useful tools to an educator.
Now let us look at standardized tests. I cannot address any specific test in any state because these standardized tests are not standard from state to state. We were told at the outset of this test movement, that tests were needed to make sure our education system was maintaining the same level of teaching and learning throughout the country. It would be more accurate to say that was my understanding. So, now we have several different tests, developed separately by various groups across the country, testing whether kids are all at least at minimal levels of learning achievement and calling it standardized.
We should consider how the Test results are applied. We know how teachers use assessments, so let us list the uses of the standardized test results by individuals other than teachers. Administrators use the results for many things. There is funding tied to test results. There is programming tied to test results. There are purchasing decisions tied to test results. Staffing and scheduling are also tied to test results.
Additional applications of the test results would be for political influence. School Board members always pull them out at election time. Superintendents use them at most public meetings. I do not know for sure, but I would imagine, that the test result numbers might be bandied about in contract negotiations with teacher unions. My favorite observation of all would be the use of these results in Real Estate offices. I imagine that some real estate agents have laminated sheets of good test results for districts in which they are trying to sell houses. If the houses are in districts with poor test results the subject will never be brought up.
Now there is talk of tying a teacher’s pay or even the teacher’s continuance in the career to be dependent on these test results. How can that be justified to teachers that have students who must take the test after only being with that teacher a short time. Maybe we could go back in the students academic history and also hold previous teachers responsible. It should be noted at this point that there are some subject areas that are not governed by standardized testing. Language courses, Elective courses, Physical Education courses, Tech and Business courses are among those not requiring standardized tests. How will these teachers be affected by the reliance on tests? Is there a different standard for English, social studies, math and science teachers?
My thoughts now go to when is it that we are doing this testing. Formative testing is an as-you-go assessment. It allows the teacher to reflect and adjust. The Summative assessment is the culminating assessment. How successful was the teacher with the Big picture. In this respect standardized tests are best compared to an Autopsy. I would propose that we need more ongoing healthcare.
I try to teach my Methods students that if they do their job as they are trained and teach kids to be learners, that those kids will do well on any standardized test. They should never teach to the test. Their veteran colleagues however, often tell them the opposite. They tell them that the test is everything. We are judged by the test results of our students. To underscore and emphasize that statement, teaching for the test is not discouraged by administrators.
My quandary: What do I tell my students? Higher order thinking skills are paramount. Follow Bloom and teach through creativity, and assess creatively. Pay no attention to standardized tests, for if your students are learning it will show as success on the test. Am I being Charlie as my students are Terry. With the advice that I give them, will they ask…“what do I get? a one way ticket to palookaville You was my brother Charlie, you should’ve looked out for me …”.
I have no answers, or suggestions for change on this subject because I need more information. Therefore, I believe it is time to assess the assessment. We need to clearly understand our objective and use the assessment to determine if we are accomplishing it.We may need to find other ways to make political statements about education and other ways to sell real estate. Let’s use assessment to determine learning.