The Hook of Standardization

Guest Blog | By Matt Jablonski, Elyria EA/OEA

Image: Blog, The Hook of StandardizedI have spent all but a few of my 20 years in education teaching a tested subject on which a student’s graduation is dependent. To say that this has had a negative impact on my career and the lives of my students is as obvious to me as the correlation between median income and standardized test scores.

I am an American History teacher at Elyria High School, in one of Ohio’s urban districts. When the state planned its switch to the OGT, we were proactive. What we understood, what most educators understand, is that scores on standardized tests best correlate to economic status.

In a district with high rates of economically disadvantaged students, there would likely be high rates of students unable to graduate due to the tests. In an otherwise meaningless system, seemingly designed to see us fail, it was our job to get students to pass the assessment. Under the endof-year assessments the same is true.

While some districts may not even need to think twice about their student’s success on state assessments, many of us need to place every ounce of our effort into strategies that point directly to an end game that has little to do with student college and career readiness, nothing to do with the joy of learning, and everything to do with an arbitrary score on a standardized test.

“An educational system driven by standardized assessments has run its course.”

In the interest of success in an urban district, educators like myself have tried to stay ahead of the curve. We have adopted new standards and adapted curriculum, written common assessments and analyzed the data. We used the language of assessments even though it’s not the vernacular of our students, found source material and written questions that look and sound like a standardized test. We taught the methods of responding to short answer and extended response questions even though their usefulness was restricted to state tests, and is utterly removed from any relevant academic writing outside of this environment. Despite the natural course of student interest, we paced ourselves to cram the content into the space and time prior to the spring assessment window.

Image: Misguided, dictionaryPredictably, we saw few victories, all relative to the level of poverty in a given district. And while the state of Ohio continues to insist that standardized tests are an accurate measure and the recipe for increased achievement, generations worth of data prove otherwise.

The Ohio Department of Education, in fits of madness only it understands, riddles its social media accounts with adept performances from the state superintendent celebrating students and teachers, as if we are too dimwitted to notice that they back assessment and evaluation systems designed to label us as failures.

Believe me, I remember the kids I’ve taught who didn’t pass their American History assessment. I remember their faces, the level of concern and anxiety. As teachers, we internalize these things. It is a part of sound compassionate practice. I’ve spent hundreds of hours developing and teaching remediation courses, so these students might have a shot to get the appropriate score on the second, or third, or fourth try.

The fundamental problem is, even when a student ultimately earns the required score, there is relief, but it’s not as if there is a great sense of accomplishment.

“Where is the meaning in being deemed successful in a meaningless system?”

No college or trade school is looking at the performance as a component for acceptance. No employer is interested either. The greatest predictor of college success is still Grade-Point Average, not standardized test scores.

What did we accomplish exactly?

Grinding out success in a system that expects you to fail can only carry you so far, and for teachers, there is always the next group of kids to deliver through the same awful system.

In a profession that is at its best when relationships and curiosity are nurtured, individuality and interest are paramount, and collaboration and creativity should be celebrated; all of us have been squeezed into an educational experience that celebrates standardization.

My career has been devoted to the necessary, but misguided task of trying to bring humor and joy to an education system that seems hell-bent on eliminating it, to introduce content steeped in relevance within a system that asks questions outside of any relevant context, to help students find meaning in a world where a major component of their education is utterly meaningless.

An educational system driven by standardized assessments has run its course. It is time for a change. #OverTestedOH

Matt Jablonski teaches American history teacher at Elyria High School in Lorain county.
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