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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 04/12/2011

Unanswered questions

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This was written by John T. Spencer, a Phoenix teacher at a low-income urban school. Part of this comes from a post he wrote on the Cooperative Catalyst blog, entitled “A Heretic During Holy Week” (a reference to standardized testing week in schools across the country). Spencer blogs at johntspencer.com and recently finished two books, Pencil Me In , an allegory for educational technology, and Drawn Into Danger , a fictional memoir of a superhero.

By John Spencer

I’m a vocal critic of standardized tests. I’m also a teacher at a low-income, inner-city school. When I admit both my beliefs and my context, people often make assumptions about me:

I must have low standards. I must be a horrible teacher who uses horrible teaching strategies. My students must be toward the bottom in the standardized test scores.

Actually, the opposite is true. I am a vocal critic of standardized tests precisely because I have high standards and I use quality teaching strategies. Furthermore, my students score at the top of the district (I teach self-contained eighth grade) in all of our quarterly standardized benchmark assessments.

Standardized tests devalue quality teaching, by pulling both resources and time away from the classroom and into an assessment practice that is shoddy at best. If we claim to believe in best practices, it seems that we, as a nation, are obsessed with an assessment practice that contradicts the very theoretical foundation of quality teaching. To illustrate this disconnect, here are a few questions regarding what we say we believe versus how we choose to assess:

* If we say we want differentiated instruction, why does every child take the same test in the same way?

* If we say we want critical thinkers, why are the tests created at the lowest base knowledge level?

* If we say we need multiple intelligences, why are the tests only in one modality?

* If we say it’s important that students learn to ask questions, why do they spend the entire time filling out bubbles, answering other people’s questions?

* If we say we need students who can make connections between multiple sources, subjects and topics, why are all the test questions separated by subject?

* If we say that students need to articulate an answer in their own words, why are the tests based upon recall instead of synthesis of knowledge?

* If we say we want creativity, why aren’t students actually creating anything? Why aren’t they developing solutions and actually solving problems?

* If we say we want students who can collaborate, why do they test in isolation? And why are we creating a system where knowledge cannot be shared?

Yeah, I have questions. Not just about the test, but about a nation that holds eighth graders accountable for meaningless facts while the Wall Street execs who bankrupt our economy got off with a golden parachute.

I have questions.

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By  |  04:00 AM ET, 04/12/2011

 
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