Failing Students Before They Take the Test

Using multiple-choice tests as the summative evaluation of our students has been the norm for a long time.  As educators we know that some of our students will fail the test, even before we give it.  I watched Seth Godin's TEDx "Stop Stealing Dreams" talk this weekend (via +Andrew T Schwab via +Stephen Maquiso), and it clicked.  It is not that we know some of our students will fail the test before they take it, it is that we are failing all of the students before they take the test.

If all the test does is to tell us whether they can recall an answer, or work through a formula that they memorized, then that is all that it tells us.  It doesn't tell us if they can solve a complex problem, work well with others, or how creative or inventive they are.  This made me mad, mad at myself, as I too have succumbed to testing the recall level in my students.

I should know better, because I have never given my staff a multiple-choice question to evaluate whether or not they knew their job.  I based my evaluation upon their performance over time, and consisting of different projects that depended on collaborating and communicating with different people across the county and sometimes the state.  If they failed or did not quite get the task, I did not give them an F, and setup a conference with their family.  I would come along side of them and coach them so that they would gain perspective and knowledge to complete the task at hand.

So what are we preparing our students for? In Dr. Heidi Jacobs' 2011 TEDx video, she explains that if we rely on the pencil as an assessment component, then we are not preparing our students for their future, but for the year 1991 (via +Andrew T Schwab).

For years, we as educators have delivered a message to our students:  "Sit down, shut-up, and don't do anything until you are told to do so."  We then tell them that the only way they can be properly measured is if they complete a series of multiple-choice questions, for which there is only one right answer.  Yet, when they get a job, we expect them to show initiative and imagination.  What event during their academic career through grade 12 has prepared them for that?

CCSS is a great step in the right direction, but it will take more than changing the standards.  We need to have courageous conversations with teachers and administrators.   We need to show the world that we do care about the success of our children.


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