I was lurking around in an #edchat Twitter conversation this morning when the discussion turned to the question of why parents do not cry out against standardized testing in education. I began thinking about the 15 (yes, that is a number high enough I don’t have to spell it out according to grammatical rules) tests that each student in Texas must now pass in order to graduate from high school. It has taken a long evolution to get us here, but here we are, expecting every student (in some districts) to grasp the concepts of physics, every student to understand more Chemistry than I did as a second year science major in college, every student to embrace the concepts of pre-calculus to the extent that they can pass an exam at the “end” of the year (the tests are mostly finished by the end of April).
I am old enough to remember the movement that started all of this. I remember hearing news stories about people graduating from high school who couldn’t read or sign their own name, perform simple addition and subtraction, or compose a complete sentence. Appalling, yes. How did we get from there to here?
I believe it has a lot to do with trust.
Parents trust the education community to be the experts – to know the best practices that facilitate student achievement. The slow evolution of testing from making sure every student has the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic – to this expectation that every student is a carbon copy of the next one, and therefore, should know exactly the same things before graduating from high school has effectively desensitized parents (and I say this as a parent myself). It simply doesn’t register when our 3rd grader wakes up one morning, begging us to cook a huge breakfast for him because his teacher said he would fail his high-stakes test if he didn’t eat well, that there is something wrong with a child this age being stressed about performance. We don’t connect the dots when our sixth grader calls herself stupid in math when it used to be the subject she loved the most that her confidence level is directly proportional to the score she got on the district benchmark test.
Parents trust that the institution forced upon every child in America knows what it’s doing, and the fancy titles “Exemplary”, “Recognized”, an “A+ school” are indicators of student success, but what they don’t know is that these titles are only measures in a moment of time. These measures only reflect how much that student knew in that moment when they were taking their test. It has more to do with “cramming” and test-taking strategies than it does with any skill needed to live a successful, productive life.
As a parent, I am disgusted with the importance that is placed on test scores. I am disgusted with grading policies that reflect how well my kids can comply with their teachers’ directives than how well they can apply what they know.
I have wished that I didn’t know – that I could just trust.
The good news is, I see a revolution on the way. I see more and more parents saying “wait a minute!” and asking the questions that need to be asked, giving their children the okay to not stress about the test, and demanding recognition that each student be seen as an individual, not one who came from the same blueprint as the next one, but one whose unique abilities and interests should be championed. Even students are keenly aware of the impact this reduction in their individual worth has had on their own futures and are speaking out.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long for them to be heard.