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Jeffery Kurz

Opinion: Time to re-evaluate tests

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It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a test of any significance, unless you count customer satisfaction surveys, which I don’t. I always get hung up on “somewhat satisfied.” Aren’t you either satisfied or not?

I’ve been intrigued by the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is to replace the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test. I had my fill of CMTs when my children were being tested every time they turned around, so I won’t be sad to see them go. The new method is an improvement of sorts, using dynamic testing in which the question that follows changes according to the answer that preceded it. But good use of technology will alone not do the trick.

What’s no good is the ever-increasing emphasis on testing and the pressure put on teachers to teach for the test. This pressure may be well intended, but it’s woefully misguided, and has more to do with government and politics than what ought to go on in a classroom.

The most difficult challenge confronting schools and school systems is culture, as in establishing and maintaining an atmosphere in which learning is cultivated and admired. The challenge gets harder the higher up in the grades you go. You want your school to be a place where it’s cool to be smart, or to want to be. You don’t want students to feel like they have to play dumb because otherwise they’ll face ridicule from their peers. You don’t want young people to hide their aspirations, you want to inspire aspiration.

That’s no easy feat.

You want your school to be a place where students learn how to learn, to learn how to study and teach themselves, because ultimately what you learn on your own, following your own ambition, is what will become the most valuable to you. You just need somebody to help you figure out how to do it. That somebody is your teacher.

This is ancient history, but if you talk to people who went to my high school, roughly from a decade or so before my time to a couple of decades after, the name of one teacher inevitably comes up. Let’s call him Mr. X, just for fun. Mr. X was an English teacher, and he went off the trolley so often you didn’t realize there was a trolley. But his tangents were the stuff of true learning, because they illustrated the magnificent experience that is the exploration of the mind.

As you followed Mr. X as his points about literature went off in all directions, you began to feel not only that you wanted do the same, but that you could do the same.

It probably goes without saying that today’s educational climate leaves precious little room, if any at all, for such a teaching approach. Yet Mr. X and his influence, and not test scores, is what lingers; it’s what people remember, all these years later.

The emphasis on Smarter Balanced Assessment and Common Core State Standards is helping replace exploration with rote response.

But students are not robots. This is what a West Hartford teacher, Elizabeth A. Natale, was getting at in a recent opinion piece that, as they say, went viral. “... government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children,” she wrote. When teachers like her start thinking about leaving the profession, it’s time to take notice.

The state’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council last week agreed to pull back on teacher review standards and allow more time while new student testing is being implemented before tying scores to teacher performance.

If that allows time to re-evaluate the entire approach I suppose you could call me “somewhat satisfied.”



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