I was going to write about projects in the classroom, but after reading one of the latest topics for The Teacher Leadership Challenge I'm feeling compelled to address the question: What role should standardized tests play in education?
The first question any teacher should ask themselves is: Is what I'm teaching going to help my students 40 minutes, 40 days, or 40 years from now? (I wrote about 40/40/40 here
). Secondly, am I teaching skills, content, or both? Lastly, do the skills or content encourage critical thinking, inquiry, and/or challenge? It is with these questions in mind that I start to think about how standardized testing fits or doesn't fit into education.
When I first started teaching, I was concerned about test scores. I was scared that students failing meant I was failing as a teacher. I carefully aligned all the Montana science standards to what I was teaching and only taught content within those standards. My second year of teaching I was worse. I had observed the results of teaching to the test, the boost in test scores, and the praise from administration for the results. I thought, if I teach the content how it is taught on the test maybe that will boost our scores. And so I began creating questions like the test, etc, etc, etc...
Out of the dark hole I'd dug myself, I emerged for my third year. I started to realize that "teaching to the test" was ridiculous! Who wants to learn in a classroom that is only concerned about a test? Surely, not me, and most definitely not my students. It was here I began my shift for the sole purpose of learning.
Now in my sixth year as a high school science teacher and my seventh year of teaching, I create classroom lessons, projects, and collaborations based on student need, skills, and the content I need to address. Most of my students are eager to get to work in science. My classroom is not typical, it's a blended-gamified class. Students work at their own pace, work collaboratively when they feel the need, and they manage their activity time to fit into the timeline given for each level (two weeks). It works for most, but especially for the students on the lower spectrum and those on the higher end. I am easily able to differentiate for my struggling learners without anyone else seeing the changes I've made and allows my faster learners to speed ahead.
So with my classroom in mind, I have to reflect back on "teaching to the test." Do I accomplish everything that I did before? Absolutely. Are my students learning the same content? Yes. Are my students building skills of collaboration, time management, and work ethic? Yes, Yes, and Yes! Are standardized tests in the forefront of my mind? Absolutely not.
Standardized tests can be present and sure maybe they play a role in education, but they should never trump teacher and student passion for learning and building of life long skills of collaboration, time management, or work ethic. Heck, what's more important, being able to fill in bubbles or reciting information OR growing a passion for learning?