Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Inauthentic Assessment

One more factor that highlights how artificial and inauthentic the current testing regimen has become is the proliferation of rules for proctors.

Faced with the spreading realization of just how invalid the tests are, testmakers and state officials have issued a truckload of proctor leash laws.

Some rules are no-brainers. "Don't erase wrong answers and replace them with the correct ones" (let's call that the Secret of Michelle Rhee's Success Rule) seems fairly reasonable. But many other instructions that teachers are receiving make far less sense.

Don't give the kids pep talks. Don't encourage the children to stay on task. Don't encourage the children to answer all the questions. Don't encourage the children at all. Don't smile and tip your head in a way that might be construed as saying, "Hey, buddy, get to work on that."

I get the goal. The goal is for the teacher to be completely neutral, to not affect the child's performance in any way. And like much of what the Masters of Reforming Our Nation's Schools do, this shows a fundamental lack of understanding about teaching specifically and about the relationships between human beings in general.

You're six years old. You are facing this weird bubble test thing that may go on for an hour or more. Your teacher, the adult in the room that you have come to know and trust and maybe even love in the long year so far-- that trusted person will now not help you, not encourage you, not smile at you. The person who usually gives you support, who helps you believe that everything is going to be okay, that you can handle the challenges at hand, has shut you off.

What do you think? How do you feel? I am going to guess that six-year-old you does not think, "Well, good. This is an opportunity to demonstrate my grit and independence. Thank goodness my school is providing me with real life experience in what to do if the people I count on abandon me. Good. I don't need anybody. I am going to kick this test's ass."

Look. The teacher has a relationship with the child. The teacher cannot not make a difference.

I have a stock answer to the old question, "What difference can one person make?" My answer is that that's the wrong question. You can't avoid making a difference. The only choice you have is the kind of difference you're going to make. Walk down the street and smile at someone-- you've made a difference in his day. Walk past him and don't smile-- that makes a difference, too. Anytime you are in a relationship with someone, even for a split second, you will make a difference. You just get to choose positive or negative. Teachers can't make no difference. The testing mavens are demanding that we make a negative one.

I understand part of the intent. I've worked at the school where every child who takes their test in the support room turns out to be ten times smarter than he was doing the same work in my classroom, and it's annoying.

But these rules that try to cut the teacher completely out of the equation simply raise the inauthenticity quotient of the whole experience, turning standardized testing into even more of a wholey artificial experience that doesn't relate to anything that real humans do in the real world. It is one more step that insures that the only thing the standardized test measures, at all, is the students' ability to take that standardized test (and golly bob howdy, we know how important those standardized test taking skills are to America's international standing and our continued efforts to replace Estonia as world leaders in standardized test taking, on which our entire economic future rests).

Developing a supportive relationship with a caring adult is useful. Tapping into that relationship for support and encouragement when times get hard is also useful, and healthy. Knowing that there are people you can count on does not have to undermine your sense of self-sufficiency, but it can bring a sense of security and stability into worlds that lack both those qualities.

There is nothing to be gained by the draconian student-abandonment rules being enforced at testing time. The rules exist only to attempt to preserve any semblance of validity of the Almighty Test, one more attempt to force everyone not to look at the man behind the curtain.


  1. This reinforces your other post about the test only reflecting how the student did on the test and nothing more.

    In the real world, we help each other. We look over each other's shoulder to learn, we ask questions and try to give good answers when asked. We avoid starting from scratch whenever possible, and instead, try to capitalize on the work others have done, even going to the trash can and see if someone threw anything away that is of use. We interact nearly continuously in a social manner, each of us learning from each other's successes and failures.

    All these things we do in the real world, these are important skills we want our children to learn. But on standardized tests, all these behaviors are cheating.

  2. We used to collaborate. This is just one more thing that didn't work at Microsoft either.