Sunday, March 30, 2014

Results! Right!! Now!!!

There has been a great deal written about the content of the current testing regime, concentrating on what The Test covers, and how little depth of complexity can be measured. But there's another dimension of The Test that deserves the same sort of attention and criticism.


The obvious issue is the time spent on the test itself. The weakness of writing components is often noted and the clearest example of what's wrong here. Best practices in writing instruction involves a process-- pre-writing, rough drafting, editing, and re-writing. We spend years in school trying to drive home the idea that writing is not a process of joy down something quickly then hand it in as if it's a polished final product. In my own class I usually put a day's time between pre-writing and rough drafting so that students can have time to discuss, ruminate, reflect and otherwise prepare themselves to express what they have to say. Likewise, proofreading right after drafting is rarely productive-- that soon after writing, one tends to see what one meant to say instead of what one actually said.

Test writing, of course, requires students to approach the process exactly wrong. Don't think about what you have to say, and don't rewrite, because you don't have time. Just dash it off and hand it in. This is not a test of writing skill.

Likewise, seeing short questions for the first time and then trying to spit out or select answers quickly, without time for thought or reflection, is not how we humans generally do our best work. And when it comes to reading, we find one of the huge disconnects between The Test and CCSS. The Core at least nods its head to the notion that reading is best done with time to read, re-read, reflect, think, discuss, rinse, repeat. The Test once again insists that you must read and comprehend and answer Right! Now!!

But these are not the only ways in which we're mangling time management for testing's sake.

The other assumption behind testing is that education bears fruit Right! Now!! If I taught a kid something yesterday, then that kid should be a measurably different person today!!!! We are approaching education as if it were instant coffee and not the planting of a tree.

Standardized testing says, "We planted an apple tree here last week. I want to see the apple pie today! Now!!" It's true that we already frame some testing this way, but that's a short-term look at certain skills. When I give my students a quiz on this week's preposition unit, I do not pretend that the results tell me if they're college and career ready.

It's on that list of Things They Never Tell You In Teacher School-- many of the results of our labors will finally bear fruit long after we're in a position to see it happen. We all treasure those moments when an old student tells us how a lesson from years ago in our class suddenly made a difference long after that student left our school.

I'm not saying that testing is a waste or that if Chris appears to have learned nothing we should just ignore that deficiency on the theory that Chris's education will just kick in in a decade or two. I am saying that assuming everything important about education will show its effects immediately is a bad idea, a foolish assumption.

Like a tree, an educated person takes years to reach full form. We can examine the early sprout to see if it's off to a healthy start, but we shouldn't imagine we know exactly how the apples will taste.

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