We have general ideas of what we want from an education system, and these revolve around a very vague use of the word “success.” Who can be against success, or “excellence,” particularly in America? I am most certainly not.
However, we aren’t clear about what we mean by “success,” so superficial ideas creep into the vacuum and become the default assumption. If we look at the educational conversation, success is too often identified with test scores (i.e. “achievement”), grades, college acceptances, and the other myriad of data that can be easily measured
When we think more deeply, this is all called into question by what we really value. Sure, I want a child who is “successful,” but I also want to be clear about what that means. There is little question that five years ago Bernie Madoff’s mother would have been very proud of her boy’s “success.” He influenced people, he made a boat load of money, he had homes all over. Is this what we mean by success? Because as we know now, his success was superficial and illusory. Now he has nothing, and so do many of the people who trusted him. For me, success goes much deeper than the superficial, easily measured “data.” Character begins to come into play, creativity, ability to love well ( a subject, a person…) And how do you measure character, how do you measure the ability to love well? I’m pretty sure that you don’t do it on a test.
But wait, you may ask, is there any contradiction between high test scores and other forms of success? Aren’t high test scores an indicator that should be thrown out? Doesn’t achievement data give us useful information? We know about test scores, they measure a student’s content knowledge. What can be wrong with this? Why not measure it?
Many thinkers are beginning to believe that, yes, in fact these two things- the deeper values we hold dear and superficial notions of success as measured by achievement data- are in fact contradictory. You can not have both. By increasing the emphasis on one, you necessarily decrease the emphasis on the other. There is an inverse correlation between an emphasis on testing (as promoted currently by the corporate reform model of education) and the deep values that we want children to grow into. Therefore, we must choose: Achievement data or honesty? Achievement data or intellectual curiosity? Achievement data or the sense of excitement that comes with authentic learning? In other words, many are beginning to acknowledge that by increasing the emphasis on test scores we are negatively affecting the character development, the creativity, the ability to love well of our students. The issue of testing is more than a philosophical difference in pedagogical approach, it is a moral issue.
It is morally wrong to continue to emphasize testing because it can only occur at the expense of deeper values.
There, I said it.
You don’t believe me? Please, please read further for more.
Yong Zhao on international testing data and deeper values:
Why test scores don’t measure “success”:
Anthony Cody on test scores and “what really matters”:
And Diane Ravitch on how the top education system in the world approaches testing: