The school in which I teach is private high school which is designed to get Chinese students into English speaking universities. I have a very high, 95%+, success rate and we really care about our students. Universities look at a variety of high stakes tests therefor high stakes testing plays a major role at our school. This has consequences.
Our student must do well on the IELTs, GED, and ACT as well have a good GPA throughout our three year program. Most of our classes are fairly typical classes designed to teach subjects, improve their English, and also match well against the tests. However, the students are always taking at least one class to improve their testing scores. In fact, during the second year students are taking multiple classes, each for a single part of the ACT test. The goes on for over ten weeks. Teachers are paid extra to teach these classes and are given substantial bonuses if the students do well on that part of the test or show great improvement.
I do not teach any of the test preparation classes. I can’t speak about them in too much detail, but from the teachers I interviewed there’s not a lot to it. They give the students practice test after practice test, looking for problem patterns each student has issues with. The classes do not teach content and do not teach any skills beyonds taking a test.
Implications Part 1
Our students spend a lot of time taking test and not enough time obtaining skills which will help them in their lives. It’s that simple on the face of it.
We do our best, and the school in making major efforts to expand student autonomy. Several weeks each year are now being put aside for students interest driven projects. We are actually getting push back from the students on those projects. While the implementation needs to improve, the push back’s root cause is China’s testing based culture. Tests have been used as barriers to entry in China for much of its history. Our students don’t mind extensive testing too much, and their parents demand it. Hence it is.
Until universities change how they admit students, and/or China stops putting so much pressure on testing, we’re not going to back down on test preparation.
Effects on other schools
According to Wyane Au, when looking at Chicago school, the teaching methods employed often depended on the nature of the high-stakes standardized test which was employed.(Au, 2007) In some cases, the tests encouraged, schools to use more student centered methods. Other tests encouraged teacher centered teaching and less content. If this is correct, then clearly high-stakes testing affects teaching as it also does at the school where I teach.
From this and the Chinese example of standardized testing, I would conclude that when institutions put into place any fixed assessment at the end of a learning process, it always alters and limits the learning progress. Currently these assessments are said to be unfair (Au, 2009) or corrupting (Nichols, Berliner, & Noddings, 2008) (Ryan, & Weinstein, 2009) in education today. I tend to agree
This is of course based on my own cultural standards. Many Chinese people I’ve talked to see talk to see high-stakes testing as part of their culture. I understand the need for testing every student, and so I think the test need to evolve. I believe that every student is worth a fair shot at some more authentic and/or performance-based assessments which could be administered in their communities. I know every student is worth it!
I’m very exited on about the potential of VR in assessment. I’m currently working on my second educational VR app students get to curate, explore, and share their own art museum with their choice of lighting, music, images. I’m not the only one working to use VR for education; take a look at this link: Learn by doing: Unimersiv educates in virtual reality (Isacsson, 2016)
The Unintentional Oppression Of Assessments Today: Implications Part 2
I briefly, in a very generalizing way, want to touch on the oppressive way which assessments are used today. This is just as much a confession as it is criticism.
Assessments are used to allocate opportunity. This is as true at the school where I teach as it is at most other schools. Students’ scores pair them with a level of opportunity at different educational institutions when they leave our school. We teach many classes designed to reach objectives for tests.
Yet I know some of my lower scoring students are capable of wonders. I see artists, writers, scientists, and more when I watch their thought processes. I see that they merely lack some key skills and experience. I don’t teach those. We don’t teach those skills. We don’t provide that autonomy for experience. I have to get them to pass a GED science test.
And so, while these student pass through our hall, they are developing identities and narratives are who they are. We assess and instruct them on obedience, and not on autonomy of opportunity. We too often narrow the scope of their humanity while, not expand it. The search to be the best student and find the best career in narrowing process. Not only is it narrowing, it in even miss guided when I watch creative minds slip into self defeating narratives, unable to see their wonderful potentials.
It is not all doom and gloom, I think I can improve my science course to provide some of those missing opportunities, but until the end assessments change, I must aim in that direction.
There must be assessments, yet assessments should test ability of preform real world, meaningful tasks in flexible time frames and settings. I want to expand the autonomy and humanity of my students. I want endless opportunity in future cultures. We are already seeing an increasing use of performance-based and authentic assessment.(Cornally, 2012) And formative assessments throughout the school term may provide a better picture of students in the future.(Kamenetz, 2015) However, I’m concerned about who creates and controls such assessment platforms. Those in power tend to be those who succeeded in the old system, and they tend to weave narratives about how well it works as it is. Formative, resource freeing VR technologies may also provide greater assessment abilities in the future. But they also run the risk of monopolizing control of the classroom. Command and control of information… Au also relates this issue called it the “New Taylorism”.(Au, 2011) While I’m not against good, scientific guidance I am against heavy external control of class room by special interests.
These are not revolutionary ideas; they are common place in fact. And yet the majority is still oppressed. The great ideas of a thousand generations before us, still sit unused for the masses. I don’t know what is wrong. I don’t why our kids feed into a prison system larger than Stalin’s gulags. I don’t know violence is sold as justice, and people question why we have so much violence. I don’t know why the promise of opportunity, is an illusion once you read the fine print. I think anyone who says they know, can’t possibility have the complete picture. I think anyone promising a utopia is a fool who hasn’t studied the nature of humanity enough. I don’t think much of our problems are intentional or planned. If anything, it’s intentionality that we are missing. And I go on just wishing people would be better to each other.
I don’t think I’m an idealist; I’m an angry pragmatist who sees a lot of dysfunction. Good education is one of our few hopes for the future. Take heart teachers, and never stop improving your teaching and the lives of your students. We are one of the central change agents needed for a better future.
Au, W. (2007). High-Stakes Testing and Curricular Control: A Qualitative Metasynthesis. Educational Researcher, 36(5), 258-267. doi:10.3102/0013189×07306523
Au, W. (2009). Unequal by design: High-stakes testing and the standardization of inequality. New York: Routledge.
Cornally, S. (2012, December 20). Deeper Learning: Performance Assessment and Authentic Audience. Retrieved June 05, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/making-assessment-relevant-students-teachers-shawn-cornally
Isacsson, D. (2016, May 08). Learn by doing: Unimersiv educates in virtual reality. Retrieved June 05, 2016, from http://www.digitaltrends.com/virtual-reality/unimersiv-educational-vr-oculus/#:0pRtXOtEnQpC8A