What Are We Really Measuring on Standardized Tests?

This post, I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems brought me back to being in school when we had to answer questions about the main idea or what the author’s purpose was- I remember being frustrated that there was just one answer and thinking how does my teacher know? Did she call the author?  

I was initially validating to read how poet, Sara Holbrook, couldn’t answer the questions created to analyze her own poem and then that quickly turned to frustration. We have created a system that is so caught up in preparing students for a test, especially one that doesn’t even measure what we say we value.

These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids’ futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.

Over Emphasis on Testing Over Learning

In an era where test scores and test prep have dominated conversations, educators feel compelled to stick to the curriculum and cover it all and we convince ourselves that we have “prepared” kids.  While most educators know in their hearts that there is more to teaching than success on a test, it is often at odds with our compulsion to adhere to what is measured and how we are held accountable.  Yet, too often we stay within our comfort zone, comply, cover the curriculum and stay in line with colleagues.

An example of how this manifests itself in many classrooms was articulated in a recent conversation I had with a few teachers. They shared stories of their tightly scheduled pacing guides and how they were expected to be on the same lessons as the rest of the grade level to ensure they fit it all in before the test. As we talked more, they shared fears of not preparing students for the next year’s teacher and what they might think about them, fear of going to grade level meeting and not being on pace, and fear of not covering it all for the test.  

Is this what’s best for kids?

Echoing the frustration of having to teach the externally designed curriculum, one teacher added, there’s nothing worse than teaching something when you know there’s a better way but we are expected to teach lesson by lesson, day by day as it’s laid out. While I know that it’s hard to push back on leaders who promote and measure standardization, I also know that many teachers, like the one I was talking to, know a better way. I love Kara Welty’s reminder in her post, What are you waiting for?

We as educators are professionals. We are good at what we do. We love our kids, and we work hard to do what is best for them each day. We build upon our practice consistently. So, let us stop underestimating ourselves. Let’s stop waiting. Let us begin to trust who we are and our innate abilities. Whatever that goal is that you have in mind, just go for it.

In education, when we become so focused on improving test scores, it can prevent us from the larger goals of developing learners to think, communicate and build on their own strengths and interests.   I get it- we focus on test scores because it is what is measured and how we are held accountable.  If we truly value learners as individuals and  want students to be able to find and solve problems, communicate effectively among other necessary skills, we can no longer simply prepare kids for a test or the next grade.  We have to rethink how and what we teach in schools to ensure we are creating space to model, guide and practice the skills that students need to be successful in life and work and contributing citizens .

What Skills Do We Focus On?

The Future of Jobs Report describes the urgency to to prepare future workers for the not so distant future. “The talent to manage, shape and lead the changes underway will be in short supply unless we take action today to develop it. For a talent revolution to take place, governments and businesses will need to profoundly change their approach to education, skills and employment, and their approach to working with each other.”

According to the report, the skills that will be in high demand by 2020 are:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with Others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgement and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

The world of work demands individuals embody  these skills but our actions in schools still rely on antiquated (and inaccurate) testing practices,  which have prevented us from aligning a vision that creates the desired culture and experiences.  It’s critical that we rethink why, what, and how we learn in schools for students to thrive in the information economy of today and tomorrow, not yesterday.

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6 thoughts on “What Are We Really Measuring on Standardized Tests?

  1. We need leaders who will call the current system the crap that it is, agree to play the current compliance game at a C level, and put energy into working with educators to put forth measures that align with what we value and do it in a way that drowns out the nonsense of standardization and irrelevancy. It’s not easy and, it’s a lot of heavy lifting. But it’s time we take control and not throw up our hands to policymakers, continuing to be so compliant. Let’s model some agency. Our teachers can’t do it alone. Leaders can’t do it alone. We need to work together in the space that will elevate how we do measurement and accountability. It has to start with leadership.

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  2. Thank you, Katie for sharing my thoughts within this incredible post.

    I adore your thoughts on stepping up our game on assessment practices. You are so correct; We often assess what is not truly important and focus on all the wrong things which hinders creativity and self-representation for kids, and adults. THANK YOU for sharing your work with the world.

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  3. Really enjoyed reading this. Isn’t it interesting how creativity jumps from #10 to #3 in five years! I share that with attendees at my sessions. It’s imperative that we teach creativity as much we teach literacy. Thanks for writing this article.

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