Standardized Testing in a Personalized Learning Environment: Not A Good Marriage

From a series of tweets inspired by #leadupchat on Saturday, August 26, 2017.

We are discussing having a personalized learner-centered environment when our effectiveness is decided in a standardized way, yet we have become a profession so held hostage by standardized testing that student and teacher voice has been silenced, in my opinion. Make no mistake. I’m all for accountability and ensuring we measure our effectiveness, but why do it in a standardized manner? Essentially, we agree that students need a variety of ways to learn & master content, yet we give them one way to show that. There’s a continuous conflict between standardization & innovation/personalization. You can’t have it both ways. Think about that!

If we truly value learning over teaching, let’s change the way we assess the effectiveness of our schools to align with that. We’ve essentially made the assessing of schools about the educators and not about the students. The focus seems to be on which educators & schools are “failing” instead of the students who aren’t learning.  What if we talked about the consequences of students not learning instead of the consequences for schools with failing labels? How is measuring a school’s success relative to another school’s success personalized? That’s standardization at its best. If the finish line is the same regardless of where you start the race, then it seems fairly logical to assume some won’t make it. The way we currently asses schools says it doesn’t matter where you start. The finish line is the finish line. Get here or be a failure.

When we boil down the profession and it’s worth to a few of the 180 days, it’s not hard to see why we have a teacher shortage. We certainly ought to be held accountable for our work! While we’re at it, can we invite some other entities to the accountability party? On my guest list would be quality housing, quality healthcare, quality economic development, quality access to jobs and transportation. I mean it’s too bad articles like these: How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores In Baltimore-Politico Magazine don’t come w/ school report cards. I wonder if it might build understanding. Instead of looking for the root causes, which could be as simple as eyeglasses, when students don’t perform we attribute their failure to bad teachers & ineffective schools. The work we do as educators is too complex to boil it down to a series of absolutes. Yet, we do just that. One big test, once a year, to determine the overall quality of a school and its’ teachers.

We label without context, we make success relative to other schools instead of individualized, & we standardize the way we determine effectiveness. While we are labeling, or grading, schools, let’s share the fun with others. What if we graded our communities & policies that support access to quality health care, housing, and economic development and their implications for communities? Let’s also grade lead content in water (❤️to Flint), air quality that causes chronic asthma, and mental health access. Ever take a look at where landfills are located? Guess where? In our poorest communities. Read Jonathan Kozol’s work and then look in your own community. You might end up surprised but you shouldn’t be. Our poorest kids go to school in the poorest conditions & live in the poorest environments. As educators, we can provide the best quality educational experiences inside the school building, but we can’t change or control factors that surround their lives & impact their learning outside of the school building. However, there are some who can-policy makers.

If we’re going to improve learning for ALL students it’s going to take more than us. Educators can’t do it alone. We need & want the help. We welcome you to take a deeper dive into why test scores are so varied among schools, why some communities are in a constant struggle.  We ask that you that you look for the root cause. Let’s go beyond the classroom, and not to excuse it from responsibility. Watch this: Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health | TED-Ed Perhaps, it will help you understand that teachers are up against bigger challenges than simply having the right resources, the right curriculum, the right support, and the right work ethic. It’s about so much more! There is a great conundrum of factors that impact a child’s learning, but there are no ratings for neighborhood air quality, access to quality health care, food security, access to mental health services, or the like on the school report card. It’s simply an assessment of absolutes. Either you made it across the finish line or you didn’t, and if you didn’t, no one cares about why it could be taking you a little longer, or what obstacles you faced that perhaps those you’re being compared against did not, or resources others had access to that you did not, or support others had that you did not. It’s really simple. You pass or you fail. Except, it’s not simple at all.

It’s more than teaching, it’s about a quality life. When we improve the quality of life for all students, we can improve their learning too. Please don’t get confused. We’re not asking to be alleviated of our responsibility. We welcome it. It’s why we CHOSE to be educators. We’re simply asking that you join us in our efforts. What can be done differently? Well, if you must know…

Start by respecting our profession. Treat us like we are valuable-not a profession of those who couldn’t do, and so we taught. We matter. We’re important. Elevate our profession in your words, policies, and actions. Affirm those who choose to teach by paying us a respectable wage, and telling stories like this one: Special ed teacher surprises her student with graduation cap and gown, tears ensue.

You see, we are more than a test score, and so are our students. We are more than a school report card, and so are our students.  Stop defining us with your narrow measure of success. We are educators. We do more than make a difference. We change lives and we’re sharing the stories of what is happening inside our classrooms and buildings on this #imagesofed hashtag.

So when you see the good that we’re doing in this world, share it in every way. Maybe, a word with condition, just maybe, more folks would choose to teach. Maybe we’d have a teacher surplus if those wbo are outside of the profession shifted the narrative from positive to negative. Perhaps the teacher shortage is related to how we’ve been treated, perceived, and critiqued. Want to know what’s happening in schools? Go see. Be like Sen. John Kennedy: Senator from Louisiana spends summer recess substitute teaching in home state

I’m determined to ELEVATE, HONOR, and CELEBRATE our profession. Our work is too important. It’s more than noble. It’s more than service. It’s spiritual. It’s soul-satisfying. It’s necessary for living and thriving. It’s humanity at its best. That’s why I’m an educator!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!


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