On Tuesday, I took part in my very first Twitter Chat. It was called #edchat and moderated by Tom Whitby. I have to say that I was very impressed. I loved the passion and diversity of ideas that so many people brought to the conversation. A variety of very good questions were tackled, but as all conversations concerning education tend to do, it gradually turned to a discussion of standardized testing.
It gets tiring talking about these tests because of the intense feelings of frustration and helplessness that it generates in most of us. However, it is obviously one of the most pressing issues facing teachers today, so I guess it’s time I talked about it.
Crushing Diversity on a Daily Basis
What bothers me most about standardized testing is that it completely squashes diversity. This has consequences across the board. It ignores diversity of ideas, perspectives, passions, problems, and locations. It ignores the diversity of people.
First, it completely ignores the diversity of students. Students have truly terrific and varied ideas. They also have different passions and learning needs. No two learners are exactly alike, but the multiple-choice format of standardized curriculum tests in no way represent this reality. Students are all channeled down the same path, and they either begin to homogenize their thinking or resist and become “at-risk.”
Second, standardized testing and teaching leaves little room for diversity of teachers. Each teacher has his or her own passions, knowledge, and instructional style. They have different pedagogical beliefs as well. Teachers bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the classroom. Any teaching style can be effective if it is used by the teacher who suits it best. However, standardized testing does not value diversity in teachers or teaching styles. It places little confidence in teachers as a whole.
Lastly, this type of testing ignores the diversity of people from different areas. I understand that there should be national standards which every school should strive to meet. However, I also believe that learning should be unique to place. I first encountered David Sobel’s theory of Place-Based Education as an undergraduate. I fell in love. I absolutely support the idea that students should learn about their own places, not only those that have become the most popular tourist destinations. It is important for students to feel knowledgeable about the places in which they live and to critically examine these places. Each community has so much to offer.
It is ridiculous to think that with such varied people and places as our nation holds, we should all be learning the exact same things in the exact same way.
As is illustrated in the image above, teaching involves a lot of things, but the most important part of teaching is the students. Standardized testing (arguably) takes into account the government’s role in education, the economy’s welfare (irony intended), the nation’s standing in the world, and even the teacher’s role. What it lacks is any consideration of the students’ learning needs.
Whether the current system remains in place for many years to come or not, this is where teachers come in. Teachers have to find ways to prepare students for the tests because whether we agree with them or not, these tests are valued “measurements.” However, at the same time, we cannot allow diversity in our classroom to be destroyed, and we must always put students’ needs first.
Making decisions about our teaching methods can be very difficult, but remembering one thing can help make our choices easier: Students need to be the clear focus of our choices. No matter what choices we make, they are defensible if we are making the best choice available to us for our students.