In past entries on this blog, I have explained the $2 billion a year testing industry and how it hurts our students. And while there is no consistent research to suggest that high stakes testing increases student learning, there is plenty showing that the pressures of high stakes testing have little to no impact on student learning. A study by Arizona State Universityin 2012 shows that “a pattern seems to have emerged that suggests that high stakes testing has little or no relationship to reading achievement, and a weak to moderate relationship to math” success.
The biggest problem I see in high-stakes testing from my perspective as a college educator is that students fresh out of the modern K-12 system tend to lack the critical problem solving skills fundamental for success outside of the classroom. In my freshman writing class, I spend a decent amount of time trying to convince students that essays can be longer than five paragraphs.
Recently, at a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues suggested that social media like Twitter, with it’s restrictions on length of content, are damaging young people’s ability to analyze complex ideas. I suggested that technology has actually allowed today’s college students the ability to express themselves on topics they may never have been interested in before, and that the bigger threat to critical thinking is testing.
Students are always shocked when they look at my syllabus and see that there are no tests in my class, that they are assessed not on the amount of information they know, but on the quality of work they produce. This is the way it is in the typical business world. Success is measured by what you do, not by your potential. And that is really all that high stakes tests measure, a student’s potential for production.
I’m not suggesting that productive citizens don’t need to know information; they do. And traditional “fill in the bubble” style tests do measure that. But they are not a measure of a student’s ability to use that information for a specific purpose. They don’t tell an employer, “here is what this person can do for you.” This is the reason why you probably can’t remember the last time you listed your MME or ACT scores on your resume.
Here in Grosse Pointe, there is a segment of the population that looks negatively at Grosse Pointe North High School because, among other reasons, they have been told that that school’s test scores are too low. Grosse Pointe North’s student newspaper, North Pointe, however, was recently named as a finalist for the Pacemaker award by the National Scholastic Press Association. If I’m a parent of a student with a passion for writing or an interest in media of any kind, that actual accomplishment is going to mean much more to me than a test score.
In short, we as educators do need to have a measure of the information our students have, but if we stop there, we are in danger of tricking ourselves into thinking that our students are achieving something meaningful. We need to push them the next step so that they can become productive, independent thinking citizens.