Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Standardized Tests?

"I feel like I'm taking crazy pills"
     - Jacobim Mugatu

I continue to discuss our obsession with standardized testing with everyone that I possibly can.  About 75% of the time, the person I am talking to agrees that they are an insane way to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable.  Another 20% states that "we have to do something to hold these people all accountable".  I then explain that they are not predictive of future success, explain that they do not assess and relevant 21st century skills that businesses are begging for students to know, and that the questions on them are often absurd (Who discovered the periodic table?  Really?  Who Cares?).  This means that 95% of the people I talk to agree that using standardized testing to the degree that we use it to determine who is "advanced" or "minimal", or to decide who gets into what college, or who gets a specific scholarship, is RIDICULOUS.

So if this many people agree that this is RIDICULOUS, why are we still using them this much?  I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!  In my opinion, it is the politicians (obviously), but more importantly the Universities.  This is a nice, smooth, easy way for them to separate students into groups and to determine a cut-off for who gets in and who doesn't.  They do not seem to have much motivation to change their practices, since most schools turn students away due to the high number of applicants.  Are we not concerned, however, that over 50% of students who start college do not finish it?  In essence, are we so concerned with trying to get students into college, that we are neglecting teaching them how to survive when they get to college, or the job, or everyday life

Why do the ACT and SAT hold such power?  This year I had the opportunity to start a Project-Based or Compassion-Based program at our high school which incorporates social studies, science, literacy, and leadership into hands-on and relevant projects to an authentic audience while teaching a plethora of 21st century skills.  After talking with tons of businesses and community members, it was clear that they felt students need to be able to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and be creative.  They needed to be able to ask good questions, not answer questions.  These are all things that standardized tests do not assess and therefore K-12 schools do not really teach much of.  This is sad.  Although we had more applicants than we could accept, I noticed that many "high performing" students and their parents were afraid to join our program.  In talking with some of them, they loved the concept, but were afraid that they would take their son/daughter off of the proper path for college.  In other words, their child was good at playing the Game of School and would definitely have a high GPA and good standardized test scores if they stuck with traditional education.  Would they be preparing their child to be successful, however?  I can honestly say that in our first year, it was a learning experience for us, but I felt that I was educating students and preparing them to be successful in their future MUCH more efficiently than I ever have in the past.  I would highly, highly, highly, recommend this path for any and all students, yet the "NEED TO DO WELL ON STANDARDIZED TESTS, IN ORDER TO GET INTO COLLEGE" is a scary enough monster to deter many people.  This is unfortunate.

The first step that needs to be taken, is that the Universities head in the direction that Google recently did, when it announced that it would no longer consider GPA and test scores as a strong determinant for hiring.  If the universities began to admit the limitations of standardized tests and drastically decrease their importance, it would undoubtedly make their job of accepting applicants much more difficult.  For the sake of education, however, PLEASE do this.  Take the shackles off of the parents, the students, and the K-12 schools by eliminating our obsession with standardized tests.  For everyone else that believes this concept, you can make an impact by talking with others and explaining their limitations.  That 20% of people that need to be enlightened, deserve to hear it.

I want to start preparing every student to be successful at LIFE!

These opinions are my own, and not my employers.

Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10

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