THE BLOG
11/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Testing for Education, Not Politics!

A definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over even when it's not working. An example is standardized testing used when experts have proven it is not an accurate measure of student progress or teacher skills. It is a powerful and effective political tool; its real purpose.

I am in favor of any valid and reliable accountability for student progress and teacher success or failure. However, the question should be who and how much responsibility should be taken for the above and what to do about it.

What should be the main basis is a student computer-generated portfolio. This would include an entering baseline of each student each year of any testable skills. The portfolio would contain whatever actually was taught the class with teacher-generated tests of that material. Any publisher-made or district mandated tests could also be included. At the end of the year other tests (each a valid and reliable equal version of the original tests) on the skills would be given to show the degree of progress. These would be the main indicators of how well the teacher taught and how well each child learned. Testing would be used for education, not politics.

Computers would be able to compare students, classes teachers, schools, and districts. Although this is an imperfect system it is a much more accurate, fair, and doable than present testing. It eliminates the waste of time in test preparation. It gives time back to the schools so they could teach all that has been almost eliminated that makes learning useful and results in a well rounded, educated person.

I found that many students who were from families where education was not seen as valuable or were in situations where they lived hungry or fearful, were not motivated to learn in an overly controlled classroom. When they knew that they would have physical education, art, and music daily, and could ask questions as well as only give answers, they were eager to learn the basics too.

Instead of a management system based only on fear (coercion) or rewards (persuasion), I negotiated classroom rules and the consequences. Students knew they'd receive due process, reasonable consequences, and found I didn't expect academic or behavior perfection, but only effort and improvement.

I didn't lecture all day, but explained a lesson and then they worked alone, in pairs, or small groups. I moved around the room or sat with one student or a group and allowed the rest to talk with, help, or to be helped. The classroom wasn't quiet, but they were usually productively engaged. (No system works perfectly all the time.)

Because they had real personal control (negotiation meant I shared power), they had less need to act in antisocial ways towards others, the educational process -- or me. Because of my daily inclusion of arts and social science, each had areas where he could excel or at least express what interested him. Because they were physically and emotionally safe and had increased freedom to grow in many ways, their natural curiosity was awakened and they wanted to learn new things. They became more flexible in thinking and action.

I call this the self-sustaining classroom, because I could leave the room and they could run it without me. The focus wasn't me, but what they were learning in cooperation with others -- or alone. It meant I could discuss very controversial topics and they began to realize they could challenge what is and find new solutions. This is what should be happening (and does in many classrooms) and develops the kind of students who are independent, self-motivating, and can accept responsibility for their actions.

The portfolio is then an accurate measure of their growth for that year. The ongoing testing done by the teacher gives the daily or weekly data to modify his teaching to fit the real needs of the individual or class. He shares this with the student and class so they work together for improvement. This is the educational use of tests and it would be open to the student, teacher, parent, and principal in an ongoing evaluation of student and teacher progress. Importantly to all those who are concerned about excessive federal and state control, this takes a giant step towards local control!

This is a fair, reasonable, and nonpolitical use of tests that assesses what should be taught and evaluated in any class. I've done variations of this in four large districts since 1962. Others are doing their conceptions of it throughout the country. This is the method and paradigm that will produce the kind of students that will keep us from losing our place as the most creative and productive country.