There is an easy, inexpensive system that can replace standardized tests. It would probably improve our ability to evaluate teachers and schools, while giving parents and students a bigger role in the process.
This system is already in place. Thousands of organizations involving millions of people already use it. If school districts adopted this system, it would save millions of dollars. It would raise some contentious questions, but these questions need to be asked.
It would be good to have more questions and fewer standardized tests.
Is all this really necessary?
Standardized tests. How do you feel when you hear those words?
Do they make a student want to stay home, rather than spend 4 hours filling in little dots with a number two pencil? Do they remind teachers that instead of the 20 days you thought you had for a unit, you've now got to cover all the same content in just twelve days?
Parents, do standardized tests make you think about moving to another neighborhood, sending your child to another school, or at least wishing you could?
Do principals suffer acid reflux, insomnia, maybe even an early death because of those two words?
Here's my idea. We have two methods in place already for evaluating schools. Test scores are one. The other, often neglected, is arguably more important: enrollment. This is where the funding comes from.
Enrollment used to be a matter of geographic location. Kids went to the school in their neighborhood, as long as there was space. A very small percentage would transfer somewhere else for personal or disciplinary reasons, but this rarely caused any significant change in the size of the student body.
Today, students and parents have more choices. Districts open up pilot schools and other alternatives. There are often charter schools near the regular "traditional" school--sometimes in the same building. There are even "Virtual Public Schools" in 32 states, where kids can take online courses for credit.
With all these choices, students are flowing to the places and programs that fit their needs. Funding follows enrollment, and the schools with more students get more money.
All we need is a way to help parents and students make informed decisions. Test scores are not the way.
How should parents decide where to educate their child?
Test scores are the "go to" metric that gets the most attention. But practically everyone agrees that standardized tests only provide a limited, sometimes inaccurate assessment of student and teacher competency.
Seriously, is there any kind of metric that can demonstrate a child's likelihood of having a successful and fulfilling life based on his or her school?
Probably not, but we do have access to a lot of information of much higher quality than standarized test scores.
When you want to buy a car or a computer or any other big-ticket item, you go online and read the reviews given by people who have already bought and used those products. When you're looking for a restaurant or a wedding venue, you probably check out Yelp! or a similar service.
This is how we evaluate virtually everything these days. Why not apply it to schools as well? There are already many websites where parents and students can rate their schools and even individual teachers. Real estate websites will give you crime/safety information about a given neighborhood. You can even search for a teacher or sccool on YouTube and you might find video projects created by students.
With all these free resources, do we really need to waste millions of dollars and scores of classroom hours just to impose standardized tests?
I dare you to envision the alternative
If we eliminated the standardized tests, there would be an immediate, across-the-board improvement in the quality of education everywhere.
Teachers would have more classtime for actual teaching. Time, money, rooms, and other resources would be freed up for educational purposes. Administrators would have more freedom and flexibility to implement creative programs at their schools.
The best schools would have a wealth of online evidence pointing to their greatness. Motivated students and teachers would flock to these schools. Higher enrollment would lead to more funding, and flourishing centers of learning would begin to sprout everywhere.
What's the catch?
There would be losers as well as winners, but isn't this already happening? If we eliminated standardized tests, the process would be more efficient and organic. School closings and staff firings would happen for a tangible reason and wouldn't be the result of politics or drawn-out, convoluted meetings.
Some people might say that funding for education would be reduced to a "popularity contest." Or that the system could be abused if a vindictive student wrote a damning review.
Fair enough, but how bad could this abuse really become? A charismatic teacher who charms the students but is ultimately a flake won't last long. He'll get good evaluations for the first year. But when the students move on and realize they're struggling because their "cool" teacher didn't teach them anything, the word will get out.
Likewise, a few undeserved bad reviews will be seen for what they are. You're smart enough to know the difference between valid criticism and snarkiness. Anyone can do that.
Overall, reviews combined with information about the neighborhood will give a more accurate picture of a school and a teacher than mere test scores. Ultimately this system is at least as fair as standardized testing, and it's a lot more efficient.
Do we trust ourselves?
I can already hear the cynical grumbling: "This approach is great for consumer products, but not for something as important as education."
What this person is really whining about is that somehow a standardized test is a better judge than we are. But you make decisions with grave consequences all the time.
Based on reviews, word or mouth, and your own common sense you choose the car you're going to drive. You pick the airline that's going to transport you thousands of miles, thirty thousand feet in the air, at near sonic speeds. You pick the foods that go in your mouth, the house you'll buy, and make many other life-changing choices without any need for a test score.
If anything, education is far too important to leave in the hands of a computer printout. The future we want for our children really comes down to one important question: Which do you trust more: Your own judgement or the results of a standardized test?