School Testing Has No Place in Middle School
It is a truth universally acknowledged that millennials are a cash-strapped generation. Generation Y believe student loans are overcharging the economy and that education should be paid for with an investment, not a loan. So, it should not come as a surprise that the most common “bad” thing a millennial will do for money is purchase a gift card. However, there is one recent, glaring exception: school testing.
In the last seven years, states have scrambled to replace the woefully insufficient measures of education that had historically been embedded into public school assessments. Instead, many States are now using a generation-defining gamification of learning. If each student earned a piece of virtual currency for answering a single question or taking a single section of an exam, it is not surprising that 55 percent of American adults say school testing is “too stressful,” according to a Pew Research survey. As a result, the majority of college students are refusing to take tests, and high school students are throwing out tests in favor of other forms of accountability.
Back when self-assessment was the norm, I spent time lecturing students to think about the value of answers given to a single question. Today, I teach social/emotional learning to social justice organizations, and as my students consider the value of a single response to a test (the equivalent of no response) they ask me, “Why are teachers even testing for achievement? Students should be evaluated for their willingness to participate. Why are they just testing for mastery, and failing to assess individual steps towards mastery?”
In our culture, students are frustrated with state mandated standardized tests, too, but they value learning and academic achievement. In keeping with the myth of standardized testing as savior of cash-strapped institutions, public schools would continue to be able to offer test prep courses if the academic mastery test became optional. However, if test scores were given more discretion to determine true levels of achievement, all school programs would change.
For students to feel justified in accessing school opportunities based on a score rather than a goal-directed experience, there should be a way for school activities, field trips, and sports to actually count towards a student’s overall impact. For example, if kids at the high school level were all given “accountability” for their participation in a voluntary after school program rather than being required to do it (and taking an official assessment to confirm), it would give students who otherwise wouldn’t enroll a chance to reduce the crushing pressure of passing tests. For students at the college level, administrators should be held accountable for enrolling students based on an “accountability” score calculated based on a score of “failure” for any number of behind classes.
As Americans, we have always told stories that amplify the external accountability imposed by parents, teachers, and school administrators, the fact is that education has always been an internal function. By looking at the difference between test performance and anything beyond assessment, policy makers should be emboldened to increase the internal value of their school’s programs and the quality of life of those who attend them.
Anya Kamenetz is the author of Cash Rich or School Poor: A Radical Remake of Public Education, a liberal-leaning analysis of education policy, politics, and practice.