One of my primary concerns about my future as teacher of English in the High School Public context is High Stakes testing. My concern is two fold: political and professional, altough these two concerns tie into each other.
The political concern is this: Testing is often a mandatory part of a curriculum, since the school is judged by its test results. The students themselves are likewise judged. Their odds of getting into college are lower if they are placed in “remedial” classrooms far away from the kind of rich reading and writing that would prepare them for such an experience. So, it is necessary for me to help them navigate the testing they will undergo. How can I do this and remain true to the kind of teaching I want to teach? What am I teaching them if I “teach to the test?” What vision of society, literacy, and their place in life am I enacting?
The second, professional concern, is quite simply, this, if I don’t have my students get “good test scores”, what professional effect will this have on me? Is the kind of classsroom practice I want to enact actually conducive to “good” test scores?
In many ways, Pencils Down: Rethinking high-stakes testing and accountability in public schools (PDF), seeks to answer both of these concerns.
In the free chapter of this book that Rethinking Schools had made available online, Linda Christensen describes a pedagogical approach towards high stakes tests that attempts to address this issues which an be summarized thus: teach the test. Not “to the test”, but rather the test itself as an artifact, the way you would any other “text” by asking questions and problem posing: where did this test come from? Who made it? What assumptions did they have when they made this test? What are they measuring? Is that what they are supposed to measure?
Throughout, she lays out what a critical pedagogy approach to high stakes testing might look like and how it can be enacted, and how it might serve as an effectiveness means to achieve the desired test results while also teaching the social and political problems in the test in such a way that the students do not internalize the language and values of the test.
This, as with all other aspects of how to enact critical pedagogy under the constraints of the “real” world (by which I mean the world of education as defined and limited by policy makers) shows the final and most important lesson from the article. Whatever one is attempting to do as regards enacting a critical educational standpoint, one should not attempt to do so alone, but rather in solidarity with one’s fellow educators.