I realized this week that standardized testing has taken a permanent place in the back of my mind. It was a conversion that I hoped would never happen…but one that I guess was inevitable. After all, we do seem to be moving towards an exam meritocracy for teachers and schools, don’t we?
How do I know that my conversion is complete?
Because I balked at a teachable moment for the first time in my career.
You see, my classroom podcast program was spotlighted by Will Richardson—Instructional Tech Expert and Web 2.0 guru—in a "Daily Bookmarks" post on his blog. Now, maybe it takes a real geek to get geeked by something seemingly so simple—but for my kids, the nod was amazing.
It generated over 300 page views in just one day from 5 continents, 8 countries and 27 states. By the time that my students rolled in at 7 AM, we had already quadrupled our daily page view average. When I showed the kids what was happening, my room was electric. The idea that they had a worldwide audience was validated and they were ready to write!
My natural reaction as an accomplished teacher is to ride that lightning as far as it flies. Whenever 12 year olds are jazzed, you thank "The Teaching Gods" and capitalize on the momentum…
Which is what I did—I put my planned lessons (on the properties and behaviors of waves) aside, pulled out the podcasting templates and fired up the microphone. We wrote and recorded enough episodes to last a week, and I had a roomful of students at lunch creating more.
Don’t get me wrong…our podcasting efforts and blog meet several state objectives. Critical analysis of issues is a central theme in language arts. The current events that we write about almost always align with social studies requirements, and learning to become creators rather than simply consumers of online content is essential for every child of the 21st century.
But I worried the entire time. Am I falling too far behind? How will I catch up? Is this worthwhile? How can I prove it? What would I say if my administration walked in and asked what we were doing? Is this "taking a day off?" Can my students afford one? Does this throw off the sequencing for my classroom? What will the colleagues on my professional learning team say?
Will the skills my kids are learning today translate into test results tomorrow?
The scary part is I’m just not sure. Standardized tests generally can’t assess the kinds of complex thinking skills that children learn while reflecting on and responding to world events. More traditional rote practices may be a more efficient way to "instruct" when preparing for a world where test scores matter.
The scarier part is that as we move towards differentiated pay plans for teachers that reward performance using standardized testing results as a primary measure of excellence (like the one Houston put into play this week), there will be even more moments of instructional trepidation for me—which will translate into fewer memorable moments for my students.