We Have A Long Way To Go With Testing, But Where To?

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

I’m opting out of the latest testing results discussion.

Columbia University professor Aaron Pallas astutely observed that every city and state politician came to their respective podiums with some variation of “We have a long way to go” as part of their statements about the newly released New York State test scores. Considering how virtually useless they are on an instructional level, it’s amazing how much passion in all directions we’ve ascribed to these numbers. The New York Times lamented the opt-out movement in New York State may have rendered the data useless, or at least may have skewed it in one direction or another.

Um, yes. I suppose anything can skew any set of data, man-made or otherwise. Mass opt-outs are another lever by which some parents provide feedback to unresponsive school systems.

To wit, I know of schools (meaning, I looked at the numbers) who changed their whole curricula, from standards to text books, and only increased their test scores by a few percentage points. I know of schools who used their resources better than others, had better funding per student vis-a-vis donations, or simply had better leadership with a vision for how schools ought to work. Everyone tries to make their case for growth with this undercurrent of urgency, not for student learning per se, but to assure that accountability monsters won’t come at their doors.

In this city, as with so many places across the nation, we’ve grown accustomed to educators as litigators. Professionals in such an uncanny wrong way.

The reasons “we have a long way to go” seem so half-baked is that we can have a long way to go on a hiking path or a long way on a treadmill. We can run miles on either, but only one of those leads somewhere. In the same way, we can keep aiming for higher test scores as a measure for student learning, but if we only work on testing the tests, and not on the entire experience of our students as human beings, then we won’t see much movement.

The evidence is mounting that, without a foundation of agency, pedagogy, and equity, school reform means nothing.

That’s why, when I speak of hope in schools, I’m driven to the intangibles of my students’ schooling experiences. Where is the passion, creativity, and curiosity in their approach towards the material? That healthy mix of “Let me teach you what you don’t know” and “You can do this without me” often makes for the best environments in a class. I sincerely hope that we can move past overjustifying pseudo-scientific methods like standardized testing and get more thoughtful about how students, particularly our most disadvantaged children, actually learn past bubble sheets.

Some folks feel like, before No Child Left Behind and the deluge of data rained / reigned upon our school districts, we didn’t know which schools were being underserved. This is why I’m opting out of the narrative. At least until we get clarity as to where we’re actually going.

Do you know?