As you read this, students all over the country are sitting for state standardized exams. Schools spend up to 40% of the year on test prep, so that, shall we say, no child is left behind. Schools’ futures and funding depend on the number of students who fall into performance bands like “Advanced," “Proficient,” and “Approaching Basic” based on bubble sheets and number two pencils.
But this is not the rant you think it is.
Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: As a former high school teacher, I’m not opposed to standardized testing. Common assessments are a critical way of maintaining high expectations for all kids. Great teachers want benchmarks to measure progress and ensure that they are closing the gap between students in their classroom and the kids across town. What you measure should matter. The problem is, most American classrooms are measuring the wrong thing.
Schools used to be gatekeepers of knowledge, and memorization was key to success. Thus, we measured students’ abilities to regurgitate facts and formulas. Not anymore. As Seth Godin writes, “If there’s information that can be recorded, widespread digital access now means that just about anyone can look it up. We don’t need a human being standing next to us to lecture us on how to find the square root of a number.”