Tonight we had a meeting at my son’s school where the Principal explained to parents how future funding was tied to student performance on upcoming standardized tests. In a few short years, if scores do not meet contractual expectations, the school could close. It’s easy for me to see a group of pencil pushers or politicians believing they are doing society a benefit by holding teachers and schools accountable to performance targets. But simple solutions to complex problems always have unintended consequences.
The complex issue is that our kids are far more than the answers they give to filling in bubbles on a test, yet there are no simple ways of assessing what really matters. What I most want for my son is that his developmental capacities for reflecting, relating deeply to others, and feeling empathy when friends struggle is nurtured during his time at school. I also want him to learn how to use his creative talents to make the world a better place. These are the skills he needs to ultimately succeed in life, yet assessing the acquisition of them cannot be reduced to multiple choice exams.
And it’s not just the students who are hurt by standardized testing, it’s the entire system of education. Read this letter signed by more than 8,000 principals, teachers, parents and other concerned stakeholders about the recent adoption of standardized testing in New York. One of the authors, Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School, also wrote about the Common Core test for first graders published by the Washington Post. While it seems incomprehensible how we could end up with Common Core and standardized testing as the bedrock of our educational system, it’s not so hard to understand when you realize that those in power making the laws and rules are developmentally constricted themselves. The systemic impact of standardized testing is not something they can see!
As a parent, knowing that my son’s school might have to close its doors because a few students cannot perform adequately on a standardized test makes me sick. The image today feels like what our world will be like if we continue down our current educational path. Absent emotion, empathy, and common sense in education, we will all suffer a colorless fate.