I woke from a nightmare. I was taking standardized tests. I bombed. I’m glad it was a dream.
It’s standardized test season, a time that strikes more fear in the hearts of schools than a life-sized poster of the Bieber mug shot. Everyone’s defined by these numbers. The media has a frenzy like Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.
We say we want schools to succeed but it’s completely untrue. Let’s be honest. We want to see blood. It’s a proven fact that Americans produce, consume, and enjoy more bad news than ever. My friend designed a blog dedicated to good news in education. She doesn’t have as many readers as a news story about drama, destruction, and gore. It’s what America wants.
So, just to prove pundits wrong, teachers spend our valuable time compiling numbers to show our students are learning. I’ve spent an entire year this year logging numbers in spreadsheets. My husband laughs at me and calls me a bean counter. I’m a historian. I’d rather tell you the history of beans than count them–I’m not very good at that.
Anyway, numbers can prove anything, depending on what we want them to show.
I recently read this TechCrunch article where Facebook and Princeton duke it out using big words and math nobody can understand. Princeton intellects prove Facebook’s about to die and Facebook retaliates by showing on graphs and charts that in five years, Princeton will have no students. And it’s all “good” math.
What it shows is this–I should stop worrying about all these numbers that affect my life and start graphing. Do it in color to boot. In my first job, I prepared diagrams for arbitrations. This was before cool computer programs, so I’d sit down with rulers and colored pencils. Nobody else used colored pencils. I rarely, if ever, lost an arbitration. The key to life is colored pencils. When people see pretty things on paper, they are always predisposed to nod and say, “Yeah…” and agree. I have to make my numbers look pretty. And use colors in my graphs.
Incidentally, this is why I spend so much time teaching my students to detect bias.
I wish our educational system wasn’t based on testing and numbers. It’s hard to look at a student and say “Well… you look like an 85….Yes, you, indeed are a 92.” I’ve had smart students miss midterms and had to give them zeroes, as if that one grade made all the difference in their success. It does to the grade book, however.
So, back to my nightmare. I have taken every standardized test alive. I sort of enjoy them because I didn’t grow up with video games. SATs were the nerd way of beating our friends. I enjoyed the idea that someone out there was trying to defeat me and I had to stop them. Nerd “video” games.
But I fell asleep on section three every time. The silence. The lack of communication. It was like meditation with multiple choice questions. Trivia questions. I fought sleep…then…out cold, drooling. But I always scored well. I wondered what I’d have scored if I stayed awake.
The point is, test numbers aren’t a solid measure any more than Facebook or Princeton’s predictions. I don’t like basing graduation or teacher careers on them.
If the numbers don’t prove much to me, what does, you ask.
Vision. Creativity. The ability to work and stick with a problem until it’s solved–the recognition that learning has changed and that students have the power to blow things out of the water and follow their passions. All I do is connect it to success. I’m the guide, not Alex Trebec. If students have those three things they are well on the road to amazing.
In my dream, I failed the standardized test. In real life, if every adult out there took these standardized tests, I think the media would have fun. It’d show I’ve forgotten all the trivia that once made me great. Made me able to defeat tests even while half asleep. I bet we all have, but we’re still successful. I am. I do a lot, and I like the person I’ve become.
But if you give me that test, the numbers will show you I suck.
So today, I pause for a moment to tell students how awesome they are. “You are not defined by the numbers. You are defined by you. Do the work. Stop at nothing to keep learning things you are passionate about–for your whole entire life. Be great…No, don’t be great. Be amazing. Regardless of what the numbers told you you’d become.”
Great opening line and post. I’m getting all shivery just thinking about standardized tests from my past.
For me, it’s not just the standardized tests. We have a teacher eval system that’s by the #’s, too. I have to create and measure goals. Thing is, I have no idea…i always think too deep anyway, because I see the flaws in all the data, and it really proves nothing. So, I do it anyway, but how does a test I design that really should be a quiz for my purposes prove if I can teach or not–and this is my evaluation. I spend hours tracking these things and these are hours I should be teaching. I love the intent–to get teachers thinking about student growth…but the unintended consequences are already rearing heads–you will see grade inflation and other number crimes because these #’s can’t be real–teacher’s jobs are on the line. If jobs weren’t on the line, they’d be real and teachers would say “oh, we can do more here…” which was the intent…same w standardized tests.
That sounds like such a double-edged sword. Teaching itself is challenging, let alone trying to continually quantify it. Ugh, is mostly what I can think to say about it.