Great op-ed piece by Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County (GA) schools, in today's AJC "Get Schooled" blog. I have reprinted his essay in its entirety, followed by my comment:
Do some individuals cheat on high-stakes tests?
Of course, some do and always have. Educators, while some of the most mission-minded individuals I have ever met, are also representative of society.
Additionally, the number of individuals who will utilize unethical means to pacify authority increases as enormous pressures are placed on them — Organizational Dynamics 101. This behavior, while understandable, is intolerable and should be dealt with fairly, expeditiously, and severely.
The more pertinent question I wish someone would ask is, “Are we testing the appropriate skills in our schools?”
The answer to that query is an overwhelming “No!” We must continue to develop and deliver metrics to our schools that measure the abilities futurists are telling us 21st-century citizens must have to be life-, college- and/or career-ready.
We must balance the testing of discrete factual information with the assessment of students’ capacities to think conceptually and solve complex problems.
Literacy and mathematics are important. Of equal importance are advanced communication proficiency (speaking, listening, and writing), critical thinking skills and a deep understanding of the physical world and its properties.
Our students must develop the abilities to discern between accurate and misleading data, to work more efficiently by utilizing the latest technology, and to participate in the democratic process by knowledgeably debating issues without being disagreeable.
Citizens of the 21st century must be able to work as effective team members within increasingly diverse groups, and they must embrace with enthusiasm the necessary skills of divergent thinking and creative problem solving. Our current national assessment system fails miserably when held up to the relevant and authentic tasks that teachers yearn to provide for our boys and girls.
We spend billions of dollars nationally working feverishly to determine what students don’t know and to remediate our most fragile learners to minimal proficiency in low- level skills.
We spend valuable hours, days, and weeks prepping for tests that ask questions such as “What are the largest cities in Kenya?” Why do we still memorize which three countries made up the Triple Axis?
I would prefer my own children to spend time comparing world conditions in the 1930s to those of today and postulating on what today’s Iran or North Korea might have in common with that decade’s Japan or Italy.
Perhaps they could create a multimedia presentation suggesting how America could have better exerted influence and possibly averted the war of the 40s and post it on YouTube.
The fact that this type of learning is more difficult to measure and cannot be determined by a multiple-choice test should not allow us to abandon it as a goal.
I have no desire to be among the first generation of Americans leaving less for my children than was left for me.
I pray regularly for thoughtful leaders who will come forward and challenge the status quo.
Mark Twain once suggested, “When your horse dies, dismount.”
We have ridden this pony laughingly called “high standards” and “accountability” into its grave.
Will we have the courage to demand better?
Will Schofield has been the superintendent of three school systems in Montana and Georgia. He is now the superintendent of schools in Hall County.
My comment: Mr. Schofield makes an excellent point. It is absolutely essential in today’s global, networked economy to educate students to be able to think critically. However, I don’t want to see the “accountability” baby thrown out with the low-level, trivial facts testing bathwater. If states are willing to spend the money it costs to score them with live assessors (rather than Scantron machines), it is certainly possible to ask students thoughtful questions to elicit multi-faceted answers. It’s just really expensive to do so.