The promise of spring should fill us with delight, but this season is marked with dread and tedium for millions of students around the nation who are entering high-stakes testing season.
Hours upon hours will be wasted eliminating wrong answer choices instead of engaging in critical thinking. Hours upon hours will be spent on exercises of rote memorization rather than on exploration and inquiry. Students will be bored to tears or stressed to tears as they fill in bubbles that can determine if they are allowed to graduate or if their teacher is fired.
But thankfully an “education spring” continues to bloom, and the movement to oppose high-stakes testing has never been stronger. For example, last year over 600,000 families chose to opt their children out of a standardized test. I recently gave this TEDx talk in support of this uprising against high-stakes testing titled, “More Than a Score: Giving students a solid chance,” at Seattle’s McCaw Hall theater. In this talk, I advocate against reducing our children to a test score and I make an argument to opt in to authentic assessments—not only because it will better engage students, but also because the future of our society and planet depend on it.
What I try to make clear in the TEDx talk is that teachers are not against tests—in fact, we invented tests. But what we do demand is that these tests promote critical thinking and be used to give us an understanding of the development of our students, not simply used to punish.
To that end, I have helped build a partnership between Seattle’s Garfield High School and the New York Consortium for Performance Based Assessment. This partnership is portrayed in one section of the new documentary, Beyond Measure. The Consortium is a network of some 30 public schools in New York City that have a waiver from the state and are not required to give the state standardized tests. Several of my colleagues and I have been to these schools and what I saw truly ignited my imagination for what education could be. The students are engaged in rich, inquiry based lessons that allow them to critically analyze their world, debate, and evaluate events from multiple perspectives. Instead of standardized testing, students engage in performance based assessments: Designing experiments, making presentations, writing reports, and defending their thesis to outside experts.
The proof of the superiority of authentic assessment over standardized testing is in the outcomes of the Consortium schools. A recent study shows, 77 percent of its students who started high school at a Consortium school in the fall of 2010 graduated in four years, compared to 68 percent for all New York City students. Last year, 71 percent of students learning English at Consortium schools graduated on time, compared to only 37 percent of English learners around the city. Eighty-six percent of Black students and 90 percent of Latino students at the Consortium schools are accepted into college, compared with the national numbers 37 percent and 42 percent respectively.
Here, then is my case for joining the opt out uprising and fighting for an authentic assessment revolution: