Here's a quick multiple-choice question for New Jersey parents (and others concerned with where the education world is headed):
Starting next year, how many state-mandated standardized tests will New Jersey schoolchildren likely have to take during their K-12 school careers?
D. at least 214
Before I give you the answer, let me just say that I'm not averse to my 13- and 15-year-old being tested by the state, as long as the assessments are ones that really tell me something about what my kids are learning. But I do find that last part problematic: current tests only tell me what my children know (as opposed to what they can do with what they know) in that very brief window of the testing period. (If you don't believe this, how many of you think you could actually pass the 11th grade state exit exam that most states now have in place?) So you would be right to think I have a general problem with testing.
But now, I have a real problem. The answer to that question, believe it or not, is D. Here's the breakdown:
Each year in grades 2 through 12, students will take four PARCC assessments that are based on the new Common Core standards. That's a mix of 44 formative, performance, and summative tests, all taken on the computer.
Then, as a requirement for fulfilling the state's proposed new "Model Curriculum," every year of English/Language Arts from kindergarten to 12th grade will be broken up into five discrete units, each of which carries with it, you guessed it, a standardized assessment that is meant to gauge progress toward the Common Core goals. That's another 65 tests.
And then there's math. Another 65. Coming soon are social studies and science, just for high schoolers, but adding another 40 tests.
There may be others on the horizon in other subjects.
Do we really think this is good practice? Do we really think this is good for kids or the teachers or for education in general.
I don't, but for reasons other than most cite as the problems with standardized tests (though I admit I agree with most of those as well). My biggest issue is this: None of these test results will give me any indication as to whether or not my children have the advanced skills and dispositions they need to succeed in the new, networked world in which they are going to live and work. While the Common Core assessments might well tell us what our kids know, they will likely tell us little or nothing about their ability to use what they know to create things of real quality and value, to share those things with the world, to solve real-world problems, to work effectively with others from different cultures, to see patterns among the reams of knowledge they have access to, to vet and organize information, to read and create multimedia, or whether they have the courage and resilience to deal with failure, if they have empathy, and whether or not they can make their own success at a time when traditional routes of education and work are changing dramatically. Those are the things that will spell success for my kids moving forward.
Technology and the Web have absolutely changed the world in the last decade, and it will continue to change radically and rapidly moving forward, and yet our goals for school and for learning are stuck in a 19th century mindset.
If you are a parent with kids in school, ask yourselves these questions: Will they be steeped in technology, flooded with information and knowledge, and globally connected in their work lives? If so, will that require very different skills and literacies from the ones most of us grew up with? And if so, do you have any indication whether your kids are developing those in school? And if not, where do you think that time is being spent?
All alone, the idea of kids taking more than 200 standardized assessments in their school years is hard to justify. But when the bulk of those assessments give us very little understanding of what our kids can actually do with what the test results say they know, that is a recipe for disaster.
The good news? People are saying "enough." In Texas alone, 78 percent of school districts have adopted a resolution against too much testing. And that sentiment is spreading.
It's about time.