Update 5pm Friday, October 21, 2011: I just got a Google Alert to this Christian Science Monitor breaking news item that the United States Senate voted this afternoon to drop the provision in the No Child Left Behind law that required annual standardized testing improvements. That is a huge victory for all those who have seen the damage that the provision did to everyone involved in public education — state officials, school administrators, teachers and students. So, just as I agreed with Michael Zwaagstra’s views below, there will now be a chance for the U.S. to have a balanced approach between standardized testing in reading and math and the rest of the curriculum. My guess is the cheating will now stop as well!
According to Michael Zwaagstra at Troy Media, a balanced approach to standardized testing is a good thing. Zwaagstra, a research fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Manitoba high school teacher and the author of “What’s wrong with our schools and how we can fix them,” seems very balanced in his analysis as well. As such, as a former teacher myself (and retired teacher educator), for the most part I agree with what he has written.
However, the key word is “balanced.” From what I am reading is happening in the United States, what Obama’s Department of Education is insisting on is anything but balanced. Rather, they are stressing the importance of annual test results to such an extent that some states are asking for exemptions, while others are busy firing teachers. In fact, with the number of teachers being fired and others quitting, the U.S. is going to have a major teacher shortage in the not too distant future.
No doubt, that is what concerns Canada’s teachers’ unions and teachers themselves. Could that type of extremism, in a drip by drip approach, become the norm in Canada as well? I would say not as long as Canadian parents and lawmakers are kept aware of what balanced means.
The bottom line is that some form of standardized testing is absolutely essential for accountability and to provide benchmarks on academic achievement, particularly in reading and math. However, that said, while those objective measures of performance are important, so are all the other things that go on in our schools — our music, our visual art, our athletics, our class trips, our debates, our spelling bees and our speech contests.
In other words, acknowledging all those aspects of learning and schooling is what a well-rounded education looks like — in preparation for a job and real life. Because, remember, jobs in real life are not just about the specific skills and knowledge required, be they engineering, law, carpentry or plumbing. Certainly, those components are crucial. But, and this is the big but, there is also the equally important ability to get along with other people, be they co-workers or customers, as well as to be able to problem-solve and think creatively. You don’t get those skills through teaching to the test.
So, yes, the crux of the matter is that a “balanced” standardized testing approach can be a good thing.