I've been thinking a lot lately (oh no! run, she's been thinking again, and that usually leads to a long ramble..run while you still can! ) about how much of learning is about student/teacher relationships and other factors that do not get revealed with a #2 pencil on a multiple choice test. Yes, pedagogy and teaching strategies are critical when kids are regularly attending school and participating; they allow us to push students to higher levels of thinking and creating. Without positive student-teacher relationships, however, kids may not even be physically and mentally present enough to learn. As kids get older, do they show up to class or even school if they feel like their teachers don't care or have respect for them? Maybe, but I doubt that they learn much in class. Even younger students "check out" and even "act sick" to avoid school when they feel marginalized or misunderstood.
Ok, so all of this is a no-brainer to those of us committed to empowering and inspiring learners each day. What's my point? The point is that we are being held accountable for a complicated and often messy learning journey where we give our blood sweat and tears to help our students, by a number on a test; a test that takes a snapshot of a blurred brief moment will determine whether we are good teachers. And with tales of impending merit pay schemes, I am worried that basing pay on test scores will be yet another impetus for good teachers to flee education. It will also be another reason for cheating and all kinds of issues that take the focus away from what we want: students who are competent to meet the challenges of a complex world. Although I agree that we can use some help in improving teacher training, both preservice and continued professional development, basing our pay on test scores misses a key point: the impact we make and the learning that takes place in a school year may not make its debut appearance during a stressful session of bubbling in dots on an answer sheet.
Does a single set of standardized test scores truly tell the story of any kid? Does it tell anything meaningful and productive about the current teacher or even those in the grades prior where testing did not occur? Does the score reflect the value of what we have done all year?
Does it reveal:
- that Johnny has been homeless and for the first time this year he feels safe only during the day because he trusts his teacher at school?
- that for all of kindergarten and 1st grade, the teachers who had that special needs child who didn't "qualify for any help" spent countless hours on their own researching and learning about how to help her, and even more hours keeping her and the class safe and engaged in learning?
- that Sean's teacher spent hours each day trying to help him focus as his mom was getting chemo all during his days in kindergarten?
- that parents and teachers often come together as partners in kids' education only to be blocked by school policies that necessitate years of failure before kids are deemed "in need" of extra help?
- that in one school year a student made more than two years of growth, even though the test shows that he is still below grade level because he was not feeling well that week?