Brian is right.
Standardized tests do a very poor job of measuring student performance and creativity in real-world situations and they are not an effective measure of school quality.
Minnesota was on the verge of developing a more diverse assessment system near the end of the 20th century. Its “Profile of Learning” was originally conceived as a means of interweaving authentic forms of assessment with standardized testing to better evaluate teaching and learning. The “Profiles,” as they were called, were intended to supplement, not replace standardized tests. But the Profiles fell almost immediately to political manipulation and were quickly abandoned.
I would like to tell a true story about a charter school that I am pretty familiar with. Charter schools are most often created to offer an educational alternative to that presented by nearby conventional public school districts. I worked at Bluffview Montessori School for 10 years. That school had adopted the Montessori Method as its own unique educational program. The Montessori Method includes unique forms of authentic assessment.
When it became a charter school, Bluffview also had to accept the realities of standardized testing. Remember, it is only by means of standardized testing that public educational institutions – including charter schools – are judged these days.
But that judgment is not accurate. Bluffview’s state test scores were pretty normal. Sometimes they improved. Sometimes they didn’t. In fact, one year while I was there, the school failed to “make AYP” in math and we had to write an approved school improvement plan. During this entire time, however, I kept track of the number of Bluffview students who, in subsequent years at the public high school, were consistently on the June honor roles. The percentages of students so-honored were always high – usually well over 50 percent. One June I observed that 80 percent of Bluffview’s 16 eighth grade graduates had made the Double A, A, and B honor roles a year later at the end of their high school ninth grade at Winona Senior High. I was impressed!
Nevertheless, not wanting to miss an opportunity to joke with the faculty, I asked our middle level science teacher why only 80 percent of last year’s eighth graders were on Winona Senior High School’s ninth grade honor role this year. Her reply was rapid – and correct. She said, “Les, remember. A couple of our kids went to Cotter -- a private Catholic high school.”
Academic success in high school was not the only evidence of the better education these kids were receiving at Bluffview. A disproportionately high percentage of Bluffview kids became class leaders, and athletic team captains, and were active in a wide range of other extracurricular activities. And finally, a disproportionately high percentage of those Bluffview kids are now in college.
Why? The school had rather routine test scores. What made the difference?
The answer to that question is the elusive piece that standardized tests cannot capture. That is why parents send their kids to charter schools like Bluffview, or STEM schools such as Jefferson Elementary or the DACS Charter STEM School in Dakota.
If we expect to fairly evaluate charter schools – or any other public school for that matter – we must change the system of assessments. Admittedly, changing the system will not be easy. Nevertheless, the challenge for all public educators is selling our concerns to business and political leaders who -- even though they may acknowledge that they need the skills and knowledge that creative and innovative employees can offer -- are locked into an industrial production model of education evaluated only by so-called "objective" techniques, in the form of standardized tests.
Indeed, it is time to change course. Let’s take another look at something like Minnesota’s Profile of Learning. Let’s take the risk and make a major change in the direction we are moving with our public education system. Let’s consider other ways that students can and will be successful. Let’s value diversity in both thought and culture. Let’s instill a respect for and ability to use inductive and deductive reasoning. Let’s value insight and creativity.
This commentary was first published June 30, 2013 by the Winona Daily News