Individualizing Standardized Education

Standardized testing is not very accurate.  Some even say it is harmful.  So why are we still doing it? Think about it.  Students work hard in school for about 12 years of their life and then they take a high school exit exam, what was the HSPT, what is now the HSPA, and will eventually be the PARCC. I challenge you, the NJDOE, to tell me how you get an accurate snapshot of a child’s intelligence and skill ability through a test that is taken over the course of 3 days, when they have been working for 2,160 days throughout their educational career. And 720 of those days are spent in high school. You can’t. And do you know why you can’t?  Because these standardized tests are masks.  They are easy to hide behind and offer an inaccurate picture of the individual behind them as well.

Now, I understand the reality of education.  We must standardize it in certain ways.  That’s why we have grades, standards, grade levels, and curricula. We need to be organized.  I get it.  I am on board with that for the most part.  What I am not on board with is using standardized tests to see what our students have done and learned over the course of their educational careers. They have achieved so much more than a percentile score. 

So, how do we individualize standardized education? A High School Graduation Determination Committee. 

A committee of impartial professionals, aspiring professionals, parents, teachers, educational administrators, DOE employees, and other students will determine if a student should graduate high school or not based on a portfolio that was built throughout that student’s years in high school—all based on standards and standardized rubrics, of course.  These people will evaluate every student in the state, just as the HSPA does right now. (Think of all those essay readers and evaluators out there.  They could be doing something worthwhile now!)  Only this committee will have a more accurate picture of the students with which they are working because they will have the chance to meet the student, interview him or her, discuss the work that they did over the course of 4 years, and actually—here it comes—interact with the student.  (Hide your shock, people.  Students are individuals, not test scores.  Take that in and breathe. It’s all going to be okay.) The student would be required to complete self-assessments throughout the process and would have to discuss those self-assessments with the committee.  Grades, teacher testimonials, work samples, and even test scores (if you wish to keep a level of standardization in there—we will talk more about that in a minute) would be included in each student’s portfolio, giving the committee an accurate picture of the student and their abilities.

Now, let’s get really crazy and contradictory—as not to rock the boat too much.  Why don’t we keep standardized tests?  Sure. Why not?  Have the students take the HSPA, or the ever-impending-dooms-day test the PARCC, and use those scores as part of the portfolio.  Allow the committee to see all aspects of the student. How the students performs in class, how he or she performs on a test, and what he or she thinks about their performance in both areas. If the tests are really what the state wants, lets acquiesce, but improve upon what we have.  Let’s test students, but also keep them accountable for what they do in the classroom throughout the course of their educational careers. 

With this system, students are held accountable for what they do, and they have to show a level of maturity, intellect, ability, and personal presence—all things they will need for life after high school.  They will engage with a committee in an interview session and sell themselves, much the same as they will encounter in the work world.  So, it’s standards-based work that is evaluated in an individual way.  A good marriage of standardized individual education, if you ask me.  


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