Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bananas in a Barrel

That's a hard combination of words to spell accurately...I had to pay attention to both, and as a result, neither looks right.

In any event, the recent decision by the DESE (that's the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to you and me, though we still call it the Department of Education...) to incorporate student results on standardized tests as a key component of teacher evaluation was not a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention.  Race to the Top mandated it, so if states wished to access the federal government's money, they had to agree to this provision. In true bureaucratic fashion, it was left a vague component: simply "significant" portions of the teacher's evaluation are to be based on student performance on standardized tests...whatever that may mean.

Here's my problem: standardized testing is the equivalent of getting a monkey to put a banana into a barrel.  It is the result that matters, not the process.  A monkey can get the banana into the barrel by throwing it, dropping it in with either hand, either foot, or even a tail, or its mouth.  The end result is the same: one banana in one barrel.  Standardized tests are the same; they don't care how the test-taker gets to the right answer, the test-taker just has to find the right answer, and bubble it in.  This, to me, is not education.  Of far greater interest to me as a teacher is to see how creative students can be in achieving the goal, regardless of whether or not they succeed.  I'd rather see a monkey learn to catapult the banana into the barrel by jumping off a branch and onto a board balancing on a rock, causing the banana at the other end of the board to fly into the barrel, than see a monkey pick up a banana in its right hand, walk over, and drop the banana into the barrel.

Yes, metaphors are a specialty...

Sadly, the most direct way to solve any problem is often the easiest and most self-evident.
Sadly, most teachers will, upon realizing that getting most if not all of their students to the right answer allows them to keep their jobs, direct their students to the easiest and most self-evident way to solve the problem.
Sadly, most students, being uninspired by school and being naturally lazy thinkers (as teens, anyway) will be more than happy to use only the easiest and most self-evident way to solve the problem.
Thus, bananas go into barrels, correct answers will be bubbled, teachers will keep their jobs, students will be advanced to the next level, and true learning will die.  Innovation will be discouraged, risks won't be taken, and school will be where creative young people wither, rather than thrive.

I bet there's a long-term ramification for the economy of the United States here...

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy only knows how to quantify the most obvious results of teaching: standardized tests. To expect that administrators would actually visit classrooms and have enough knowledge of the subject and of methodology to determine if a teacher is doing a good job or not, is just not in the cards. And never has been in my 32 years of teaching.

    What has been dreamed up for those subject areas which are not tested??? Inquiring minds want to know.