A 3-Part Series on State Assessments and the True Meaning of Education

Don’t let anyone tell you that standardized tests are not accurate measures. The truth of the matter is they offer a remarkably precise method for gauging the size of the houses near the school where the test is administered.

– Alfie Kohn, Fighting the Tests: A Practical Guide to Rescuing Our Schools

Recently, talking about spring led me into a rant about high-stakes testing. Weird correlation, huh? This is because spring is not only the season of renewal in North America, it is also the season of the state assessment – a task that has very little to do with renewal and in many cases is the complete antithesis.

Testing and accountability are natural elements of a school system. Unfortunately, these natural elements have grown out of control and have largely become the sole purpose of education. The punitive state accountability systems and their accompanying high-stakes tests drive the work of public education rather than inform the work. When students ask, “Why do we have to learn this?” the answer is invariably, “Because you need to know it for the test.”

“Why do we need to pass the test?” the students reply. “So you can move on to the next grade and eventually graduate high school.”

“Why do I need to graduate high school?” “You need to graduate high school so you can go to college.”

“Why do I need to go to college?” “So you can get a good job and make a good living.”

This conversation cycle is not fabricated. This is precisely what we push in education. It’s almost always about the next thing. Even when we teach important skills such as math, we explain to students that they will need it in the future. The Why of education is too often so far removed from the students’ real life. And, as in the case of continuous next steps, it is a self-perpetuating and empty reason to begin with.

So what is the true Why of education? This is an important starting point for this exploration. The Why should drive the What which should drive the How. Accountability systems and tests should measure the success of this process and help educators make better decisions and improve this process. Not the other way around.

WHY  –> WHAT  –> HOW

Getting back to this intentional cycle is vital for education in America right now. The goal of this 3-part series is to take a moment to reflect on the true purpose of education and learning and spark discussion of how to bring that back into education and, more importantly, into the lives of our students and children. Spring should be a time of renewal for students and schools alike, not a stressful survival series that only serves the interests of a few.

Stay Tuned:


Part 1: The Why of Education and Schooling

“The Impact of High-Stakes Testing: Part 1a, Educating the Wrong Why”

“The Impact of High-Stakes Testing on Creativity and Learning: Part 1b, Educating the Right Why”

Part 2: The What of Education and Schooling

“The Impact of High-Stakes Testing on Creativity and Learning: Part 2, The What of Education and Schooling”

Part 3: The How of Education and Schooling

“The Impact of High-Stakes Testing on Creativity and Learning: Part 3, The How of Education and Schooling”

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