by Dale Schlundt
How do we know our students learn what we teach? Newly trained teachers are taught that lessons should be geared to use a diverse set of teaching methods to achieve successful student learning, using the concept that some students will learn more effectively through peer collaboration, written assignments, discussion, or a combination of several. The majority of educators have heard never-ending arguments as to why class lessons should involve multiple teaching strategies to ensure every student comprehends what is being covered. I could not agree more as to the effectiveness of this approach. It simply works. So why does the issue of nationwide testing not receive a similar approach?
It is peculiar that we take this approach for teaching, yet when we create secondary school evaluations, we throw all the previous theories out and use exactly what we titled these tests, Standardized Testing. Most telling is the simple fact this type of evaluation is ineffective when looking at the individual student. Now of course, there is no choice on the part of the secondary school districts — it falls to the lawmakers. Do legislatures empathize with the student perspective? Perhaps that is not their job, yet I believe it to be so. However, regardless of who are the decision makers, it begs the question, how does one reconcile these contrasts? How can one not agree that teaching methods and assessments should complement each other rather than contradict? For instance, if we have a group of students that all understand a topic in history in varying ways, how do we justify asking them all identical questions on a summative exam?
Not to be overlooked, there are those who will argue the teaching of the material and the assessment of what is learned do not have to be based off the same methodologies, as well as the point that students should all be learning relatively the same material and therefore should be tested on such.
I can find a certain degree of truth in all of the previously stated. However, the outcomes or effectiveness should be the deciding factor in this question, not personal opinions, regardless of their objectivity in the matter. The deciding factor should be the answer to the question, does standardized assessment work well? Even more to the point, does it work for our "customers", the students?
The question should not be just, does it simply work? Because if we are just trying answer that question, then yes, it works. Standardized testing does work. Yet, for a country that is promotes our goal is to reach every student with the No Child Left Behind Act and the more recent Race the Top, I would say the results dictate that the answer is no. We are not successful, not for every student. Hence the fact that we continue to see these test being critiqued. We see exams continued to be modified such as the new STAAR, but that leaves us with the status quo which will continue as standardization for students.
Unfortunately, the older I get the more I begin to realize life is not simply black and white, but many shades. So of course, we cannot overlook how standardized evaluation lends itself to school funding as well as simple benchmarks to "grade" a school district's performance. Are there more effective and student friendly alternatives? I believe so. Despite my personal beliefs, those are discussions for the lawmakers, topics we will be debating long into the future. As we now have the STAAR test in Texas, many discussions will surface as to the test's improvement or lack of. However, more importantly is the fact that whether you are evaluating students, teachers, principals, or districts in a group or standardized context, you overlook one of the most important aspects. We lose sight of the very point we started out considering in the beginning of the semester: the individual.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master's Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College, Our Lady of the Lake University, and Northwest Vista College. Dale has written two books, Tracking Life's Lessons: Through Experiences, History, and a Little Interpretation and Education Decoded (A Collection of My Writings).