In Public Education, Many Teachers Are Pumping Their Fists For the Wrong Reasons
In college, I pumped my fist at a rally against standardized testing. I’d never seen the exam I was protesting, but stood in solidarity with educators and labor organizers who felt the testing movement was an attack on teachers, particularly those working in poor public schools. My opposition grew when I became a teacher in the South Bronx, one of America’s poorest communities. I wanted to uplift my students and resented the weight of a looming high-stakes test.
Besides, I thought good teachers should be left to their own devices. And, I was certain that I was a good teacher. For the most part, my students were punctual, respectful, and engaged. It wasn’t until my second year in the classroom that I began questioning this assumption.
In a routine evaluation, my principal praised my organization, management, and facilitation, but posed the following question: “How do you know the kids are really getting it?” She urged me to develop more-rigorous assessments of student learning. Ego and uncertainty inspired me to measure the impact of my instruction. I thought I was effective, but I wanted proof.
In my third year of teaching, I put myself to the test. To formally link my instruction to quantifiable student outcomes, I decided my sophomores would take the state Comprehensive English Regents Examination a year early. As I deconstructed the test—which was a blend of reading-based questions and essays—I appreciated its ability to efficiently achieve what I could not.
Writing rigorous and comprehensive test questions is a meticulous and laborious science. The New York regents’ exam was based on the science of assessment and aligned with state curriculum standards, core curriculum, and federal mandates. The state education department oversaw testing, ensuring questions were written and vetted to be “statistically and psychometrically sound,” and published an online archive of exams, rubrics, and sample student essays. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I decided to learn from these tools. What I learned was surprising and empowering.
CLICK HERE TO READ ON