The Washington Post Sunday magazine publishes an education-themed issue several times a year and mostly it’s an excuse to sell ad pages to private schools and colleges in the area. However, in this issue is a rather sad first person story by a teacher who became so frustrated with the standardized testing prep mentality at his high school that he left rather than compromise his own standards.
Standards of Learning were introduced to make education better. But in my experience, they had the opposite effect. The intense pressure to raise test scores eventually squeezed the life out of school, both for my kids and for me.
From the start, the get-tough tests rubbed me the wrong way. Implicit in the notion of "accountability" are the assumptions that: (a) education is a product, the input and output of which can be standardized and measured; and (b) it’s high time for teachers and schools to quit slacking and get to work.
In my experience, teaching is more alchemy than science. Its fundamental elements — connecting with kids and sparking their love of learning — can’t always be measured by a test. Its practitioners pursue their elusive goal one child at a time; sometimes they get gold out of a kid and sometimes they don’t.
He goes on to describe several of his students who he had "hooked" on reading only to have to tell them that they couldn’t read in class but would instead be taking practice SOL tests just like "I did that last period in history!". He also shares stories from his colleagues of how they’ve had to drop projects and activities that motivate students, and which have been successful, all for the sake of practicing for the test.
Although the school in this story is in the same overly large school system in which I work, I don’t know this particular teacher or of how successful he had been at the school. However, I do know many excellent teachers, in this area and other parts of the country, who feel the same way. Despite the fact that they have been extremely successful with the students in their classes, getting them to learn the basic skills as well as extending their knowledge way beyond, they’re now being told to teach to the test. Told that even if their students are learning, they still must practice their testing skills, replacing other activities that would be more interesting and productive.
So what happened to this teacher? To me, that’s the saddest part of the story. He moved to a nearby private school where his students aren’t required to take the state’s standardized tests.