Check this out:
I crushed it, right? Totally crushed it.
I mean seriously: A 6.08 out of 7 — when average performance in the state is a zero and average performance in my district is just below a two IS pretty darn good, isn’t it?
I should be dancing in the streets. I should be walking around with a puffed chest and a REALLY big head. I should be offering the entire free world suggestions on how to be a better science teacher.
According to these scores, I AM “that good.”
But here’s the thing: I personally think that super high test scores are incredibly dangerous.
(1). Super high test scores breed complacency in teachers and schools: While LOTS of kids were “successful” in my classroom last year, I know full well that there are kids that I struggle to serve. I’m not great at working with students who have learning disabilities or who speak English as a second language.
My goal as an educator should be to improve my practice in those two areas. But with test scores like mine, it’s easy to be complacent. “Look at how much better I am than most teachers!” I’m tempted to think. “How much better can I really be?”
(2). Super high test scores can cause teachers and schools to doubt struggling students: According to my results, my instructional strategies are “working” for the vast majority of my students. If I’m not careful, then, I might be tempted to place the blame for struggling on my students — instead of accepting responsibility for helping EVERY child to succeed. Excuses like, “Clearly, my teaching’s not a problem. Those kids failed because they ________________” are a heck of a lot easier to throw around when your numbers say that you are amazing.
In How Children Fail, John Holt argues that the best teams and teachers never make these kinds of excuses: “If the students did not learn,” he writes, “the schools did not blame them, or their families, backgrounds, neighborhoods, attitudes, nervous systems, or whatever. They did not alibi. They took full responsibility for the results or non-results of their work.
It’s pretty darn easy to “alibi” when your numbers are amazing. That’s equal parts sad and scary.
(3). Super high test scores can cause teachers and schools to overlook other meaningful definitions of “successful students”: What’s really nuts about my test scores is that I don’t believe that they measure anything meaningful to begin with. Our science exam is a 35 question, knowledge-driven multiple choice exam. Know your vocabulary? Memorize a ton of basic facts from the entire year? Spend three weeks reviewing before the test day?
You are going to ace this thing.
But nothing about the test requires kids to act like practicing scientists. They don’t have to learn to ask and answer interesting questions. They don’t need to form a position about controversial topics based on interpreting data or examining evidence. They don’t have to design an experiment to test a hypothesis or prove a theory. There’s no critical thinking involved in earning high marks on a test that prioritizes nothing more than remembering stuff.
And that’s what’s so insidious about my “high marks.” I’ve figured out how to best prepare students for a test that doesn’t prepare them for the world they will enter. I’m the champion of the irrelevant. And if I don’t keep those marks in the proper perspective, I’ll forget to examine just how well I’m doing at helping kids to master more meaningful outcomes that we all know matter, but that no one bothers to measure.
Is this making any sense?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that unless you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses, willing to resist complacency, and ready to recognize that standardized tests rarely measure the outcomes that matter most, earning “high marks” can bring out the worst in teachers and schools.
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