Changing The Language From Anti-Testing To Pro-Whole Child

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

I like getting into discussions with people who like saying “Jose, why are you against testing?”

Let me lay out the argument and the reason why, instead of referring to myself as anti-testing, I’m calling myself pro-whole-child.

The argument is that testing isn’t bad. We should have experts who look at the lay of the education land, help set standards for what children ought to learn at every grade, and then help develop assessments that help us get a glimpse as to whether students learned that material. Testing seems more stable, and less prone to error since these guys spend their working hours on developing precise problems and test them on children and adults to make certain that the problems absolutely mean to assess what they mean to assess. Plus, having these common assessments between grade levels could make for interesting longitudinal studies and provide critical feedback for teachers, parents, and students about student and teacher performance.

I hope I got that right because, as it turns out, I think there’s something inherently wrong with this.

To a certain extent, I do agree with having a viable, thorough curriculum from K-12 that expands on content knowledge, helps students question, and goes beyond teaching students how to multiply in high school. Often, it’s the students in the lower-income brackets that get tossed into the least demanding classes with the teacher who likes to say, “Well, at least they’ll learn something!” I have a thing for high expectations, and I can’t shake it no matter what others say either. Plus, in my classroom, I give exams rather often. Outsourcing this task to the experts seems like a good idea because it’s less work for me on many levels.

Yet, that’s just not how this plays out currently. In fact, the current status quo strips away any real teacher expertise and potential for creating curricular equity. For one, students, educators, and parents at this juncture don’t worry about learning the standards; they worry about passing the test. The ramifications for passing the test include loss of funding, an overabundance of visitors who critique more than help, and eventually a process for shutdown that often dismisses the students who go to the school. Schools in these situations become less like cultural centers and more like test factories, churning out kids who can pass tests but can’t imagine or create without being given the answer outright.

Also, people who advocate for the Common Core State Standards miss the bigger picture that people on the ground don’t: The CCSS came as a package deal with the new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing, and austerity measures including mass school closings. Often, it seems like the leaders are talking out of both sides of their mouths when they say they want to improve education but need to defund our schools most in need of a demanding curriculum, if that’s the argument. It makes no sense for us to have high expectations of our students when we don’t have high expectations for our school system, especially when it comes to funding.

Lastly, and most importantly, “testing” isn’t the same as assessment. We have plenty of things we can assess and test, of course. The way we talk about testing, however, is mostly a math and English-language arts third through eighth grade game. I don’t want that. I prefer we emphasize math, ELA, science, social studies, arts, (daily) physical education, and anything else that would give our students an experience that makes them better for having done it. In other words, I want more than what they’re getting now.

I prefer people don’t refer to me or anyone else who thinks like me about these things as “anti-testing.” I’m not anti-testing. I’m pro-whole-child-assessment. We don’t have a fancier name for this, but it’s more appropriate than the drivel attached to the “anti-testing” label.

I want less tests and better assessments. There. And I wear the “pro whole child” label proudly.