Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

We must re-imagine our school cultures and end the madness of high stakes testing / standards-based reform

Greg Thompson in his post, “The Landscape of Educational Culture” has it right. We must re-imagine our schools and end the madness of high stakes testing as well as “standards-based” educational reform. He writes:

We can’t have both. We can’t create a thriving, innovative, creative, vibrant learning environment and pair it with common standards supported by textbooks and assessed by standardized tests. The two ideas are diametrically opposed. To waste time and money attempting to force these two into a relationship would be as futile as Romeo and Juliet’s parents trying to keep them apart. And remember, in the end their kids died.

It is inevitable that students will learn . . . what is not so certain, is that they will do it within what we currently call “school.” They will find a way to generate environments much like the Meebo description – a place where they can thrive and think and explore and truly learn by doing.

Current educational “reform” is a smoke and mirrors distraction. For decades reform has been a series of piecemeal attempts to do the same thing we have always done, just differently. The real question, “Should we even be doing what we have always done?” is not being asked. What we need, is to reimagine school from the ground up, drawing on the truths we have learned about how humans learn. We need to take what we know about the power of environments that encourage and nurture creativity and innovation and not “reform” school, but finally begin to create what can honestly be called “school.”

I’m on that train with Greg. Better clear the track. We’re coming through.

child looking out of a train window

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6 responses to “We must re-imagine our school cultures and end the madness of high stakes testing / standards-based reform”

  1. Frank Crawford Avatar

    “We can’t create a thriving, innovative, creative, vibrant learning environment and pair it with common standards supported by textbooks and assessed by standardized tests.”

    Not sure I agree with lumping all this together. Society in general, including parents, have a view about high stakes testing. The description above paints things as dichotomous – one set of stuff, good, other set, bad. Why can’t we have better assessments that evaluate the things you want as outcomes? Breadth, challenge, higher order thinking, application…… Teachers “teach to the test” – why wouldn’t they? Eschew dichotomy!

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Frank: It’s my view, and I think Greg’s as well based on this post, that society’s “view about high stakes testing” is dead wrong. No one is saying we shouldn’t take tests– that’s definitely not my position. The emphasis on high stakes testing and high stakes accountability, however, is a relatively new phenomenon in our country and has had explicit political purposes. I taught in Texas when GWB was governor and ushered in (with many others, of course) the paradigm of high stakes testing. Then he went to Washington and brought us NCLB. Naive observers may say these initiatives were well intentioned… I do not count myself among that group. NCLB and the agenda it represents were formulated to discredit educators and public schools, by setting achievement bars which any statistician can tell you are impossible to meet. We certainly need high expectations for student achievement and for our students to perform well on a variety of assessments, but the myopic focus we have on summative assessment in our nation and elsewhere is very destructive and has corrupted the profession of education itself. It has caused many educators, administrators as well as teachers, to view students as statistics rather than unique human beings, and to make instructional decisions which are out of line with what we know is best for students and learning.

    You are correct that high stakes testing and the accountability movement are not the same thing, but I think the effects of both have been destructive and counter-productive to the goal of transforming schools into the differentiated, supportive learning spaces we need them to be in the 21st century. We need a focus more in line with the “Habits of Mind” framework than with our current paradigm. The fact we have over 3200 different educational standards in Oklahoma is representative of the result of the standards movement. We need a focus on high quality, dedicated and competent teachers rather than more educational standards and standardized testing. Human beings are not standardized, and we must stop perpetuating the myth that the educational institutions which attempt to serve us must be standardized.

  3. Steve Avatar

    Yes, summative assessments are inherently inaccurate at determining a student’s level of success… when that is the lone assessment given. But I think that Dr. Bob Marzano and others would agree that there is nothing to fear in a high stakes test, when the student is prepared using a standards-based, formative-assessment-rich learning environment. The key to this reform is a focus on changing the out-dated and misused grading and assessment practices that developed out of a WWI officer candidacy test, in which the creators used the 100pt. scale for ease of comparison and the multiple choice format for ease of grading. This simple (and badly written) test was developed to identify men who would make “good” military officers. How many of us are looking for that out of our classrooms? Wake up, smell the caffeinated beverage of your choice, and accept that while high stakes testing is problematic, it is not going away anytime soon. The best way to ensure that our students can succeed in this world is to prepare them for it. For further info, read “Formative Assessment and Standards-Based grading” by Robert Marzano; it will open your eyes and mind to a whole new world of educational possibilities – even in a high-stakes standardized world.

  4. Frank Crawford Avatar

    I took part in a seminar recently with people who had diverse views on assessment. The highest level principles and purposes were common – helping young people learn; improving life chances; raising achievement in the broadest sense across a range of skills, attributes and capabilities; and with some element of accountability. As usual, the disagreements were in the detail. A key issue on raising standards is understanding those in the first place and for that we need loads of sharing among teachers within and across schools and settings -professional development. I agree with Steve that high stakes assessment may be problematic but it will remain with us. Question is, how do we increase its validity to cover the “thriving, innovative, creative, vibrant learning environment” we all seek while avoiding resorting to the apparent reliability of standardised, multi-choice testing? Good assessment is hard stuff!

  5. Carl Schmidt Avatar
    Carl Schmidt

    I agree that we need to get away from these testing mandates. Sure, we should be able to monitor a student’s progress, but teaching them to answer questions simply because they will be tested on it is ludicrous.

    As a former teacher, but still in the education field, I have an issue with teaching to the test. Ask any teacher or administrator and they will tell you that they are NOT teaching to the test. Yet, when you go to their classrooms or talk to them about their curriculum, the first thing that comes out of their mouths is what they have to cover for our end of grade (EOG) testing. How, I ask, is that NOT teaching to the test?

    I also ask them if their students can apply what they learn. A lot of times I get nothing but a blank stare. They can pass their EOG’s is usually their response. Hmmm. Well, that’s nice. So they can recite and regurgitate an answer but if you want them to apply it to a real world situation, be prepared. We are NOT teaching our children to think and interpret information for themselves.

    I have become a big proponent of getting our students to DO to LEARN. That is, in a nutshell, similar to project based learning. In a sense, I have asked some teachers to think about the NC Standard Course of Study and the concepts presented there. Ok. What kind of projects or scenarios will help your students learn, understand and apply those concepts to that project or scenario?

    I don’t have the answer that would satisfy the lawmakers that insist we do high stakes testing. Punishing schools and teachers is certainly NOT the way to do it.

  6. Seán Avatar

    What are these truths we have learned about hopw peopel learn. As far as I can see there are no universally agreed truths in pedagogy, only opinions.