Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Slippery Slope to Irrelevance

About a week ago someone in my PLN on Plurk asked for opinions on the standardization of assessments among teachers in a school district.  I responded by referring to the post I wrote a few months back entitled "Standardization is the Death of Excellence."

You can't have both standardization and excellence.  The former prevents the latter.  And while excellence is something that all teachers should strive for, it's naive to think that we'll all reach that level.  Even if you do, there's always someone who does it better than you - someone from whom you can learn, someone you can collaborate with to get better, someone who can show you new ways to see problems that arise.  When we standardize teaching, a nasty side effect is that we discourage teachers from even striving for excellence.
Image:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Standardization, whether it be of assessments, teaching practices, curriculum goals, or anything else prevents those someones from being available to those trying to learn.  When everyone is the same, nobody is setting the bar higher.  Nobody is innovating.  Nobody is growing.  Nobody is learning to do it better.

Let's come right out and say it - the only purpose for standardization is to prevent inferiority.  And while it's great to try eliminate inferior assessment practices, our students deserve more than the mediocrity that is left in the wake of standardization.

The argument I often hear for the standardization of assessment practices is based on the need for grades in each classroom to mean the same thing.  As if grades meant anything meaningful now anyway.

Assessments should be done to provide students vital feedback so that they can learn.  When we assume that grades are that feedback we send the message to students that their learning means nothing more than a number in a gradebook.

Our students deserve more than that.

Not only should assessments not be standardized between classrooms, they shouldn't even be standardized inside classrooms.  Students should be free to express their learning in the best way they see fit.  If one student wants to demonstrate understanding of division by creating a video explaining how farmers use division to determine medication doses for animals, another by creating a slideshow showing how car companies use division in determining the effectiveness of their factories, and a third wants to write an letter to their congressman explaining how the states resources are not being divided equally among its citizens, shouldn't they be able to?  Shouldn't they be encouraged to?

None would be allowed if teachers were forced to use a district mandated multiple choice test.

It's time for teachers to stop this slippery slope to irrelevance.  After all, that's where we are headed if we keep letting others tell us how to teach and how to assess our students.  We are professionals.  We have certifications given to us claiming that we are experts in these decisions.

If we start giving up this control, we will be left following canned lesson plans and giving canned assessments that some corporate textbook company came up with.  When we give up that control we will turn teaching into a job that any schlep with a pulse can do.

And our kids will be left with an education that's the same quality as if any shlep with a pulse was teaching them.