I wrote last week about how I surprisingly found myself liking the standardized science test that my state requires me to give students each year. I liked the test because of the critical thinking skills it promotes. I still like that test, but I received another reminder of what I hate about testing in a message from my state’s department of education today. The woman who had been coordinating Social Studies instruction across the state announced that her position had been eliminated. The department of education eliminated any content area support positions for disciplines that are not measured by mandatory annual assessments. I really hate that. I was a History major myself and went into the field of education to make Social Studies interesting for students. Social Studies so often seems to be the discipline that receives the least attention at either the local, state, or national level.
Am I angry with my department of education? No, not really. Like our local schools, the DOE is dealing with huge budget cuts to a department that was already pretty lean. I am upset with how our national focus on assessment results has lead us to eliminate support for disciplines that do not directly produce measurable results. Although one could clearly argue that learning to critically analyse historical facts leads to critical thinking skills that span across other disciplines. I felt even more upset this past summer when a highly regarded principal in Burlington, Vermont was removed from her position in order to make the district eligible for federal stimulus money. The principal had done an exceptional job in her school but the federal grant required drastic action to be taken in the city’s lowest performing school. What has our desire for high test scores and needed grant funding caused us, as educators, to become?
I still stand by my last post, that there are some good assessments out there. We can do an excellent job of educating our students and this can lead to higher achievement scores that we can be proud of. But when I think of the unacceptable compromises that education has made in the face of high stakes testing, I don’t like who we have become. It’s not the test’s fault, it’s ours.