Monday, April 5, 2010

Can Standardized Testing and Whole Child Teaching Coexist? Only if Whole Child Teaching Comes First.

In classrooms across the US students and teachers are busy getting ready for the big standardized tests that come each spring. These tests are often seen as antithetical to the whole child instructional approach. Although they have become too much of a focus in our schools, and have done damage to the reputation for creativity, spontaneity, and innovation that once made the teaching profession so exciting - for the near term they are here to stay, and we Inspired Teachers are here to stay, so it’s important to find a way to prove that good teaching (as we know it) and student achievement (as measured by these tests) are not mutually exclusive.

The growing consensus seems to be that if you want students to do well on the tests, every moment of your instruction must place a laser-like focus on their form and content. It is true that an exclusively narrow and content (rather than student) -centered approach is incompatible with whole child instruction. If the tests are the sole focus of your instruction, and the only tool you use to measure student achievement, it is unlikely that your classroom is a place in which things like social-emotional needs, divergent and creative thinking, problem solving, and self expression get a great deal of attention.

But here’s another way to think about the tests: in a classroom in which growing the whole child is a teacher’s focus, achievement on these annual tests will actually come naturally. More importantly, when a teacher looks at each student and figures out how to address his or her academic, physical, social, and emotional needs – she is teaching not for the test at the end of the school year but for the life-long aspirations and achievements that this child is destined to realize.

It’s hard to argue effectively against the validity of standardized tests when their results so often mirror the inequities that exist in our educational system. We know things need to get better, most of us don’t think tests themselves are going to do the trick. As Inspired Teachers we believe and have seen that good teaching given its proper time and support will ultimately enable students to achieve. So here's a provocative idea, what if instead of defeating the tests on the basis of their shortcomings as comprehensive assessment tools – we make them superfluous because the whole child instruction our students receive prepares them to do so much more than simply fill in the right bubbles on a standardized test?

If we move to make this point, achievement on these annual tests would simply become a side effect of good instruction – not its focus.

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