What’s lost during testing

CC image via redorbit.com
This past week our high school students (9th and 11th grades) completed the new PARCC online field test. The setup and implementation was a collaborative process of many players in the school system. The test itself required many hours over several weeks for the tech coordinators, principals, teachers, administration, and eventually students. Valuable time and energy in the course of a school year was dedicated to this test. The test also took away reading, creating, exploring, and making time.

There’s waning doubt that the PARCC test, or any test for that matter, has any impact on a student’s learning. The results are simply cheap data that disrupts the creative, innovative teaching and learning practices that many teachers and students desire. The mere act of recalling information that has been strategically worded by a testing company for several hours with limited breaks holds no merit anywhere outside of the test itself. Students leave a test drained and feeling unaccomplished. Teachers nervously await the results. The entire process is a drain and an infringement on innovative teaching and learning practices.

However, I don’t possess the solution to an alternative metric. But, I have some thoughts that I hope future generations of educational theorists, administrators, and politicians consider. And one pertinent example of what learning should look like.

This past Friday I came across a piece on CNN.com titled, “Teen to government: Change your typeface, save millions”. As I perused the article, I came away with a simple sentiment, “That’s it, that’s what learning looks like!” In short, a 14 year-old student developed a novel solution for his school to cut down on expensive paper handouts which inevitably led him to suggesting a switch to the US Government from Times New Roman to Garamond that would save the Government 234 million annually.

This is what learning looks like. What I witnessed after the PARCC exam, or for that matter, any test, was not. Learning should be rewarding and fulfilling for students. They should get excited about it and have time to experiment with it, and occasionally fail at it. Ultimately, students should own their learning and strive to solve a problem or conquer a challenge. Suvir Mirchandani accomplished both.

For a moment, if educational policy makers could step back from the testing lobbyists and see what students can do in the absence of mind numbing tests, they might see change. They might realize that the future of education is not about recalling information, but about making, designing, and creating. This is what our global economy demands and it’s the fuel it is currently running on. If we continue to proceed with blinders on and think that standardized tests are nothing more than a cheap filtering system, we may miss out on some great innovations and contributions to our world.