“School isn’t about learning, it’s about passing tests.”
That was a comment I overheard from a ninth grade student recently.
Sadly, she’s right. At least in most schools and classrooms. Including mine.
The damaging impacts of high-stakes tests on teaching and learning are real. Personally, it has dramatically impacted my career over the last ten years. I’m brainwashed by these tests. Really. My lessons begin and end with thoughts of the NYS Regents exams. If it’s not on the test, I don’t teach it.
Through all this, do my kids learn mathematics? Probably. I can’t say for sure. But do they learn how to take tests on mathematics? Definitely. Make no mistake, there’s a widening divide between these two abilities.
This is not to say that tests themselves are necessarily the problem. They aren’t. In fact, there’s research that shows that tests can actually promote learning. Take a unit exam or exit slip, for example. In my case, students often complete these assessments individually. If students don’t do well, they can retake at any time, for any reason. There’s no pressure to do well on the first go around. You don’t get it? No big deal. Let’s find our weakness, improve, and try again. The focus of these assessments is learning.
This can’t be said for high-stakes tests. And herein lies my headache.
I know this is nothing new. I’m simply echoing the voices of millions of teachers all around this country. Ironically, though, what motivated this post wasn’t the countless adversaries of high-stakes tests, but the voice of one ninth grade student. She believes the purpose of school is to prepare her to fill in bubbles with a #2 pencil. This really bothers me.
The fact that she has devalued learning in the school setting – and reduced it to passing a test – is deeply troubling. And I know she’s not alone. It makes me seriously question how I’m contributing to this high-stakes epidemic.