Our Current System: Teaching to the Test
The emphasis on high stakes testing has raised eyebrows among stakeholders as to the value in standardized assessments and the ramifications of “teaching to the test."
In a recent viral animated YouTube video, these implications were brought to light in a rather comical fashion. A young, blonde, and eager female graduate enters a conference room for her first job interview. When prompted with questions, she immediately answers with a mere letter; C. “If I don’t know an answer, I always choose C. My sixth grade teacher taught me that C is the most common answer on our tests."
While not entirely realistic, we can make a clear connection between her response and the narrow lines of thinking associated with the multiple choice testing mindedness that our students may glean in their K-12 educations under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Further, this mock interview paints a clear picture of how such assessments are ill fit for the demands that will be placed upon our graduates in facing the “real" world.
Yet, placing blame on NCLB policy can only help students if we as professionals take a long hard look at what has been working and what needs improvement in both the system and our personal practices. As educators, we aim to further the interests of our students. Students want to learn. We know this based on personal experience and research backs up this fact.
Why Change is Needed
High stakes testing under NCLB have created a system of widespread accountability. While schools and students have become familiar with score reporting and the repercussions of testing, carrots and sticks have failed in moving all children ahead. In other words, some children have still been left behind.
College and career readiness are two explicit aims of the new set of standards. Creating a common language and even a shared data base for lesson planning and implementation are a few of many possibilities associated with a national set of standards.
As a teacher, my greatest aspiration is to plant seeds within my students that will grow strong roots and yield a plentiful harvest throughout their lives in both school and career. So many of us have resorted to the “answer C if you don’t know" type of advice that is now being scrutinized for its real world irrelevance.
It is understandable that many educators are reticent about the implementation of new standards after NCLB did not entirely meet its goals. If teachers are going to move forward and buy in to a whole new program, it is imperative that an ear is given to their lamentations and problems that have arisen because of the “omnipotent" standardized testing accountability system.
How to Promote Change
Recent cutting edge research posits that carrots and sticks may no longer be motivating many employees. In his bestselling book on motivation, Drive, Daniel pink calls these tactics “last century." He advocates that we upgrade to a system of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Drawing from a rich bank of evidence, Pink points out that some of the greatest modern inventions have been created during hours when employees at companies such as 3M and Google have their autonomous work time. We can thank 3M and Google for their forward thinking every time we stick a post-it note, or go ogle at Google’s myriad functions, if you will.
If teachers and students are going to “buy in" to the new Common Core standards, they will need the motivation to do so. Providing both teachers and students with autonomy in meeting the standards is one way to bolster motivation as a whole.
Is the Common Core the Answer?
When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took his post as superintendent of the Chicago school district, he mandated a scripted curriculum. While his intentions may have been to help teachers, their response indicates that they were not looking for this type of assistance. Simply put, teachers jumped ship in droves.
Teachers have a high turnover rate, and this is a case in point for how to make teachers run the other direction. If our goal is to build a strong contingency of educators who are in the classroom for the long-haul, we will have to do away with mandating scripted lessons once and for all.
Not everything that happens in the school house mimics the inner workings of businesses such as Google or 3M, although many teachers and students alike may be motivated by the possibility of working toward their goals with a greater degree of autonomy.
The beauty of these new standards is that they mandate what students should learn, although they do not dictate how students should learn. This is a window of opportunity for administrators, teachers, and students alike. Now that we have Google and so many online search engines, we are beckoned as teachers to broaden our virtual horizons and employ new methods in our profession.
Bill Gates recently spoke to the potential of the Common Core in capitalizing on the internet as a resource. “Everyone needs a coach," he asserted in his TED talk. While teachers have historically received brief evaluations that merely scratch the surface of their performance, Gates believes that this needs to change in order to help educators. He has proposed an online video data bank for lessons geared toward meeting the Common Core Standards.
As a teacher, I was intrigued by the possibility of watching colleagues teach. The idea of being videotaped may take some getting used to, but the general idea of sharing a lesson bank is one that seems both practical and quite useful for my practice.
Will the Common Core work? Only time will tell. But if the autonomy that Common Core provides educators and students works as well as it has in the business world, it may be time for us all to go and ogle at the standards, or at least make a metal (or post it) note about them.