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Hollow Promises

Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.

- Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

Could you imagine Joel Klein, George Bush, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee saying anything like this?

In Alberta, Canada, we have a very strong understanding for how foolish the American Education System’s obsession with standardized test scores truly is; and yet we still have a very strong test score focus.

Mission statements are cute, but if school districts want to strive for excellence by inspiring learning and nurturing hope in every student, they have to do more than just say it – and they can’t simply resign themselves to the way they’ve always done things.

School districts need to rethink how they define and measure success. In Alberta, we still place far too much emphasis on narrow minded, paper and pencil, multiple choice exams. If we really care about excellence for all – inspiring learning in all – nurturing hope in all – then we need to define and measure success in a less standardized manner. But then that means we need to drop or obsessive need to measure our success in a way that compares one kid or one school to other kids and other schools. If we no longer feel the need to compare then we no longer feel the need to standardize.

If we no longer need to standardize for the purpose of data collections, then we can properly personalize learning in a way that is inspiring and nurturing for all.

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About joebower

I believe students should experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Hollow Promises

  1. Joe, Seeing you here is always cause for celebration!

    So how did Canada maintain its strong focus on data (as you describe–and professional culture, as you imply), and not become obsessed with competitive, superficial, this-is-a-contest-because-that’s-the-only-way-we-can-think-of-to-get-people-to-be-responsible kind of testing regime that we have here in America? It’s as if the only way policy makers could think of to whip the sector into shape was to make it into a middle school field day: the Purple Team against the Yellow Team in the three-legged race. And we know what kind of enthusiasm for sports that produces in the long run.

    Dr. Cornel West (@CornelWest) says frequently that America is an “adolescent” nation. We lack gravity and a sense of the importance of the enterprise we are engaged in. We fail to understand how our history (although short and bloody) influences our present; we love short-term solutions and quick rearrangements, because we feel like we are doing something. My observation again and again is that Canadian teachers, for all the problems with definitions of learning you describe, regard themselves more or less as professionals: trained to to their work, committed to the work as an enterprise, more aware of the weight and importance of the work moment to moment.

    If you agree with this (and I know you are a fiery critic of your own colleagues and circumstances), then to what do you attribute the differences in these professional cultures?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 29, 2010, 9:19 am
  2. Hi Joe,

    The problem is that for decades this reliance on test results has yet to improve our education. Even if we took their premise that these measurements are to be accountable to students there have been little if any improvement in decreasing the achievement gap or getting resources to schools in low- income areas. If we abandoned these measurements altogether I don’t think the system could get worse. It’s already at a low point in my opinion, so I wish society to would let us rid the system of silly measurements. Here’s a measurement for if schools are doing their job, let’s see if the students that come from a system where there are no standardized tests succeed in their careers, stop cheating people of their money, and begin to collaborate together to improve the economy, foreign relations, ethical practices, and the environment. Let’s see if dropout rates decrease, teen pregnancy, teen violence, and drug abuse. If students are invested in their passions and learning what they desire and how they desire then I think these other factors would improve. I hope we eventually get fed up to the point where people say, “Hey, let’s go for it and get rid of these tests, it’s not like it’ll get any worse.”

    Posted by Shelly Sanchez Terrell | October 5, 2010, 11:31 pm

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