I’m a soccer fan, and I love the announcer on Telemundo who yells that when a score is made during games. But this entry isn’t actually about soccer. It’s about goals.
When teachers plan lessons, they have to have objectives, or goals, that they plan to reach through the lesson. These goals are based on the subject being taught, the curriculum standards being followed, the requirements of the curriculum of the class, and the students in the class. We teachers have to take into account who our students are and what is important for them to learn in order for them to become better educated. What do they need to know? Why do they need to know it? How can I get them to know it? And how long is it all going to take?
The main goal of education is for students to learn. I know that sounds obvious, but hear me out. No matter the subject area, be it science, English, or PE, the students are supposed to be learning something; some way of thinking, some way of using their brains and/or bodies. Every single day is a challenge to a teacher on how to accomplish this feat. For an elementary school teacher it has to be achieved every day in every subject area. For a middle school or high school teacher, it has to be achieved around five times a day in his subject specialty. That’s not easy and there has to be evidence of that learning EVERY DAY. That evidence is called assessment. We assess students in some way, formally or informally, to check if they are “getting it.” A class discussion can be an assessment as well as a test.
But the key to all this is that everything we do must be for the BENEFIT OF THE STUDENTS. They have to get something out of it, educationally speaking. If I assign an essay, it has to relate to what has been taught in class in terms of subject as well as writing skills and it can’t just demonstrate the students’ abilities to write essays, it has to enhance THEIR understanding of the topic of the essay or the theme of the unit or whatever. There has to be a two-way connection to everything. There has to be meaning and learning going on even during the assessment. That’s what it means to be for the benefit of the students. Even the assessments are learning moments.
So, what is the goal of all this testing that people keep pushing? What is a student going to gain by taking a standardized basic skills test in a subject area? Which do you, fair and well-educated reader, consider the better assessment of a student’s learning: a comprehensive essay that requires the student to use all her skills in writing learned over the past whatever amount of time that asks for her to use the texts read during the marking period as support for her claims in a thesis that she has created over time and revised to suit her needs better OR a single-period, closed-book, essay that requires her to use her writing skills on the fly without revising based on a prompt that has never been seen before but that refers to the topics of the past marking period and asks her to make as specific reference as possible to the texts used OR a 50 question multiple-choice test that asks her to read passages that she has never seen before as well as identify certain passages or ideas/themes from the marking period’s texts?
Well, what is your goal? If it’s to demonstrate that everything the student has worked on and sat through during the marking period is simply useless unless she has memorized just facts and you want to make school a fruitless chore, give the multiple choice test. If you want to create frustration in the student because she can’t remember certain parts of a book she wants to write about but cannot look up and reinforce the idea that all writing is just fine in the first draft, then do the timed essay. But if you want to have the student actually think about what she needs, plan out an approach to conveying her thoughts on paper about a particular topic, and then succeed in utilizing real-world skills like research, rewriting, crafting, and deeper critical thinking, then you give the long-term essay.
I don’t care if my students can remember that Lodovico is Desdemona’s cousin or that Mr. Darcy’s home is called Pemberly. I don’t care if they can put a thought together on a prompt they have never seen before and write that thought down with support in as short a time as possible, even though that kind of essay is on the standardized tests. I am not teaching my students to accomplish short-term, worthless goals like getting an 11 instead of a 10 on the SAT essay, which is going to become optional anyway in 2016. (Turns out it wasn’t a very good measurement of a student’s writing ability.)
I am teaching my students to think critically and convey those thoughts in well-supported arguments much like an entrepreneur might pitch a business deal, or a lawyer craft a closing argument, or a doctor propose a particular kind of surgery on a patient before a review board. I am trying to help them reach LONG-term goals, like succeeding in college and being able to do a job, not just pass a test or two. Who of us adults ever thinks back to the day we took the SATs and ruminates on how great it was to take it? How many adults even think about just their SAT scores? NONE. If I’m wrong, and some of you do, then you all need to go out and get a hobby or something. Those scores mean absolutely nothing after you’ve been accepted to college. They mean barely anything when applying to college. No we think back on our true successes. That time when the hardest math teacher in the school complimented you on your geometric proof. Or the time when your senior year English teacher asked to hold on to an essay you wrote to use as an example for future classes. Or discovering upon entering college that you had been prepared better than anyone else in your class because your teacher cared about your education rather than just your test scores.