Standardized tests will not save American education.
It's not that I don't need data to help me make decisions. It's just that the data I receive from standardized tests does not give me a complete picture of whether or not my students are learning.
Don't get me wrong. Data is important.
I need data to analyze how well the students who sit in my classrooms are learning. I need data to measure if students are mastering the standards.
I need data so that I can figure out how I can help a student learn what they need to know.
I need data to analyze if my teachers are doing a good job. How can I tell if a student is really benefiting from a teacher's instruction unless I can measure the impact that teacher is having on her students?
Without data I would not be able to tell if a student is learning and a teacher is doing their job.
But data alone is not what I need. In fact, if I rely only on the data from standardized tests I will have a distorted view of my students and my teachers.
Standardized data cannot capture what happens in a classroom. Learning is about engaging ideas. Learning is passion, following ideas, understanding the why.
I want students who are engaged, who care about what they are learning, who understand not just the information but why it is important.
I want students who will dig for answers. I want students who don't just memorize information but who wrestle with ideas. I want students who grow excited about what they are learning and lose themselves in learning.
No standardized test can measure that.
Tests are also artificial. They measure a very narrow slice of learning and certainly do not capture the breadth and depth of all that students know and care about.
There has been a lot of conversation about the value of our American testing program. Many would argue that our current form of standardized testing is not very good. (See this article.) Some parents are going so far as to opt students out of testing. (Here - #myoptoutletter, here)
But I believe that parents deserve to know if a student is making progress. I believe that taxpayers deserve to know if the investment that they are making in schools is really making a difference.
Standardized tests give us one perspective.
But we have come to rely on them as the only arbitrator in learning. We have come to see standardized tests as the only true measure of whether or not a student has learned anything.
And that is just not the case.
The question is how can we balance our need to know if students are learning and teachers are making an impact with our understanding that standardized assessments are not completely or wholly accurate reflections of all that students know?
It is a delicate balance.
But we have to figure out. We have to get the answer right.