Just type the word "testing" into the search box on Facebook and you'll find thousands of parents distraught over the standardized tests their children are being forced to take despite the fact that these parents know it is not in the best interests for their children who in many cases are becoming physically ill and emotionally traumatized by the experience of sitting for up to two weeks straight filling out bubble sheets and answering prompts. Schools are reluctant and even misleading when it comes to informing parents they can simply opt out often arguing that although they acknowledge that it might not be in the best interest of the child, without standardized tests, everything will fall apart.
For many there is no alternative imaginable as in this comment from a graduate student studying to be a teacher.
I can't STAND standardized tests. Every professor (and grad student) at my teaching college hates them. And yet, I have not heard a single responsible alternative to them. How do we assess if students are learning the curriculum without them? If teachers are teaching? If entire schools are failing? Yes, they are undeniably hideous, and "teaching to the test" is an awful, unavoidable consequence of them, but if we take them away... then what?
Isn't it odd
Isn't it odd that in PK-12 school life we think we can't measure success without one-size-fits-all, government-imposed tests, yet, once we leave school and enter college or the real world, this magically is no longer true? For those unable to imagine a world where we can assess without standardized tests, I bequeath upon you these ideas.
1. Authentically demonstrate rather than test how standards are met
Students can be assessed in a standardized way by authentically demonstrating how standards have been met. This could be captured in an ePortfolio or some other system which could be created on a national level. Students could meet standards at their own pace, in their own way and learning could be differentiated and aligned to each child's talents, passions, interests, and abilities.
2. We don't need tests to measure success of teachers and principals
To effectively measure success, we need to know where it is we want our children to go. Most parents agree that they want their children to be happy and satisfied. Standardized tests have no place in achieving such goals as they don't measure either of those things. If we want to want to know if students are happy and satisfied survey them. If we want to know if students are happy and satisfied with their teachers and principal, survey them about that too. Give the same survey to parents. Have the principal and teachers complete evaluation surveys about one another. Ask for suggestions and advice in the survey. This is similar to the customer satisfaction surveys of the real world.
3. Measure what matters
If we really want to measure effectiveness of a school we can measure success by things like employment rate of graduates, number of graduates who went to prison, the number of students who dropped out, number of suicides, percentage of students with obesity, the percentage of students who had college as a goal that earned degrees, and happiness and satisfaction surveys. If you're thinking, but wait, much of this is affected by family and community, not the school, the same could be said for standardized tests, but at least now we're measuring something that matters.
4. Personal Success Plans
Who owns the learning? The student of course. We can measure student success using personal success plans which empower students to create goals for and measure themselves. Students can also assess how well their teachers, parents, and school are doing in helping them to meet their goals.
Teachers and principals can develop plans for themselves as well. The school community can develop a school success plan for their school. They can also assess how well the district and government are supporting them in meeting their goals.
5. ePortfolios help us remember why we're measuring
With all this standardized measuring and testing, sadly, the system has forgotten to keep their eye on the prize. It's as if measuring more often has become the key to helping students succeed, but succeed at what??? Being good at filling in bubbles and/or answering prompts they have no interest in? As a result, in more cases than not we are leaving our high school and college students unprepared for success in the world and their future employers are calling educational systems out on this loud and clear as students are graduating with literally nothing to show for their work besides transcripts and boxes of tests and papers destined for the circular file. It is not uncommon for high schools to forget that they should be helping students like Armond McFadden prepare for the real-world rather than artificial measures.
As a result of this educational neglect, Armond has spent nearly a dozen years in schools which have never focused on helping him compile his real world talents to showcase. There is no support for a resume, ePortfolio, or assistance in supporting him with the skills he needs to seek out an internship, apprenticeship, or part-time work. Instead of prepping these students for tests, which they will no longer experience once they leave school, why not prepare students for life? Today's grads known as "Generation Debt" are often leaving school with a diploma in hand and nothing else to show for their years of study.
A simple solution to this is supporting students in their creation of ePortfolios in alignment to their personal success plans. With that we are truly supporting students in personal mastery in a way that differentiates learning, meets their goals, enables them to own the learning, and prepares them for success in life.
Now aren't these a better option for measuring students than filling in bubblesheets or reacting to someone else's prompts?
For one more bonus idea and links to all the resources mentioned here (i.e. personal success plans and ePortfolios), visit The Innovative Educator blog post, "6 Ideas to Prepare Students for Success without Standardized Tests."