During teacher professional development this week we were discussing how the new instructional philosophies and strategies we were there to learn would actually look in the typical teacher's classroom. Inevitably the discussion of tests and how federal, state and local accountability impacts how we teach. It's a tremendous concern and one that can't be taken lightly. How do we make change and how do we make that leap of faith to do what is best for children and not necessarily what our current accountability systems want?
As I sat there and listened to the discussion I received a link to the finally released versions of Texas' STAAR tests. This is our first look at what this test actually looks like after two whole years of delivery!
I was interested in the 5th grade tests since my little boy just finished that grade so I pulled up science and math. We had all heard about how the tests were going to be different and how the questions were going to need higher order thinking skills to answer. After looking at the tests I suppose that is true to an extent. There were a few "aha" moments when you could understand what they meant, but that wasn't what I found myself thinking about.
I was in a room with a group of teachers where we were trying to gain buy-in for student-centered learning. We were scaffolding them with new ideas, strategies and skills. And most of these teachers had to go back to a classroom where they had to make a choice: survive the teaching profession in the world of accountability or do what is best for students. Survival is a natural instinct. Project-based learning or flipped instruction is not.
What I realized looking at the test was that there were some questions I couldn't answer by just taking the test in a room with 20 others and none of my tools that I use every day.
When adults have problems to solve, when we have something to accomplish, when we have to have the answers to our questions, we have access to our tools. Tools we depend on to survive. Tools like the Internet, books, measuring tools, dictionaries, calculators, etc. On today's tests, students are only given access to a few of these tools.
In today's world it is natural for us to use digital tools to help us solve our problems. It is natural like indoor plumbing. It is natural like electricity. We take these things for granted because they are always there and today, the internet is always there.
We want to give our students great learning experiences and we want them to have access to great tools for learning but then we throw them into the wilderness(standardized tests) and expect them to survive. We no longer teach our kids to live in a world without planes, trains or automobiles. We no longer teach our kids to live in a world without books, telephones, indoor plumbing or electricity. These are all tools we have come to rely on and are part of our lives.