Necessary but not evil

Standards and testing aren’t a “necessary evil” that stifle innovation by the best teachers, concluded Time DeRoche, a consultant with the Broad Foundation and the National Center for Educational Accountability. He writes in Education Week:

I was a part of a team that visited five extraordinary urban districts in the country. What we saw was astounding: Many teachers are embracing standards and testing. These tools, when used correctly, have an incredibly positive effect on teacher morale. Educators thrive when expectations are clear and when they have immediate access to data about their students’ progress.

Since my epiphany, I no longer think of standards and testing as a necessary evil. I now understand what a positive force these tools can be: They have the potential to spark an extraordinary revolution in the teaching profession.

DeRoche was “astounded” by what classroom teachers told him.

Almost unanimously, they told us that standards and testing have made their jobs both more rigorous and more rewarding. Specifically, they mentioned that the new focus on results fosters more collaboration. Because all grade-level teachers now work with the same content at the same time, there are more opportunities to cooperate on lesson plans. In this environment, educators actively seek out one another to share ideas and improve instruction. Teaching is no longer a lonely profession.

A standards-based approach also encourages the use of benchmark tests as diagnostic tools. To complement state testing (which usually occurs annually), many districts have developed preliminary measures to assess student progress. In many school systems, educators see student results within 48 hours, giving them immediate feedback about the effectiveness of their teaching. We observed several meetings during which teachers discussed the relative performance of their students and then brainstormed about how to improve instruction.

It also creates clear job expectations. By looking at standards documents from the district and state, a teacher can understand exactly what his or her students are expected to learn. This takes much of the guesswork and fear out of the evaluation process.

Teachers have raised their expectations for low-income and minority students, he writes.

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  1. I can’t say enough about testing creating clear job expectations. This is my first year of teaching after many years in research & engineering. Most of my students will take the NYS Math B exam in June. It is very clear what they need to know & what I need to teach, however, reading the NCTM standards it is not so clear, neither are the current NYS Math B standards. However, matching the curriculum & NYC Math B standards to the past Math B exams & the Math B exam standards gives me a clear description of what I need to be teaching. Then I match up that list with what the Pre-Calc & Adv Algebra teachers need as skill sets in their incoming students… voila, A CLEAR set of topics to cover.

    But then again in a previous life i wrote job descriptions & machine specs maybe I’m just focused on preparing them for both their next course and the Regents exam 🙂

    I’ve found doing this has enabled me to share with the students my joy and love of mathematics without getting bogged down by “what should I teach”. I already have a game plan.

    So personally I think both diagnostic tools to assess where we are in respect to where we were going & clear expectations written in the form of standards/assessments are wonderful.