There’s a famous quote that some people perhaps falsely attributed to Albert Einstein that says, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The fascination and near obsession with testing has left some students struggling to show their abilities. One of the more common subjects that arises when talking about education is the phrase, “teaching for the test.” Regardless if you are talking to parents, teachers or advocacy groups, you are bound to hear people engaging in a discussion about how the focus of educating students has been reduced to teaching so that they can pass standardized tests.
The results of the tests have implications for the teachers, administrators as well as students. It adds to the pressure on teachers who are undervalued in their profession and who take on roles that, many times, outperform their actual job titles. But the consequences of the tests are also experienced by students including grade level promotion and high school graduation.
The National Black Child Development Institute released a report called, “Being Black is Not a Risk Factor” that focuses on the “strengths, assets and resilience demonstrated by our children, families and communities.” The report seeks to undo much of the internalized damaged that so many of us have become victim to. When we allow others to create our narrative about what is wrong with us, why we can’t learn and what we need to do to be on par with them, it could possibly cripple our community and limit our children from achieving their true potential as they begin to doubt their own skills and abilities. At times, the data around testing does not empower our students and creates false narratives that our children generally can’t succeed. But that isn’t always what the research shows.
Dr. Ivory Toldson, the Deputy Director for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities published a series of articles aimed at debunking false narratives around the education of black students. Statistics that so many of us hear quoted like, “there are more black men in prison than in college,” or “black male teachers are becoming extinct,” were proven to be inaccurate. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Data can at times be manipulated or, if misinterpreted, present a false portrait of the facts. Many of us look to statisticians and researchers to tell us what the data means.
But if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves looking at someone else’s perception of who we are and when it comes to what the tests say, we may see a grim picture instead of the hope and promise that has led us through progress.
So if testing isn’t the only answer, what is? The response is most likely multi-faceted. If you are sick, the doctor may take your temperature. But even if you have a high temperature, it doesn’t necessarily tell you what is wrong, other than you have a fever. Too often in education, we are administering tests that give us a symptom – but it’s not the full diagnosis.
There are many more things that we can examine to tell if a student or a school is doing well. Some of those measures include student attendance, educational growth, teacher certification or development, school suspensions, the number of students in advanced classes and graduation rates among other things.
While many public schools dole out high stakes, rigorous tests that often make students, teachers, administrators and parents anxious and stressed out, private schools that so many well-off families send their children to often avoid those same types of tests. And yet the conversation for public schools seem to stay focused on testing. Some parents are opting out of high stakes testing in states like Louisiana and Florida and legislation to this effect is being introduced in states like North Dakota and Illinois.
Seven states already have state laws that allow parents to opt out of standardized tests for their children including Pennsylvania, California and Washington. The rejection of high-stakes testing is moving toward the recognition that a test can’t tell you everything about a student, a teacher or a school. Even Albert Einstein once failed to meet the standard on an exam, but we know his genius was undeniable. Instead of allowing one answer to dictate the final grade of our students and schools, maybe we need to choose all of the above.
Janaye Ingram is the Acting National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, Ingram focuses on issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, among others.