Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learning That Matters

The other day I posted the following statement on social media, "When was the last time any of us had to take a standardized test in our careers? Answer = never. So why is this done to kids incessantly?" I should have clarified my comment a bit more by explaining that I was referring to repetitive standardized tests being taken while in the same job with the same school, company, or corporation.  My point was that there seems to be a disconnect in terms of how many times K-12 students are now subjected to standardized tests compared to the majority of professions. Yes, many career paths require entry-level exams and those that identify essential skills sets needed to do the job. Some jobs even require routine re-certifications. Many, however, do not require another test once a passing score has been achieved.

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The problem I have is that most jobs in both the public and private sectors utilize differentiated means to evaluate job performance. Goals are established collaboratively while keeping or losing a job isn't determined by how well you can bubble in or electronically respond to answers on a test. Now let’s make a connection to learning.  Ask yourselves this, can you clearly make a connection to the results of a standardized test you took and its impact on your current job? I sure can't because most of the tests I took lacked any relevancy and meaning in terms of what I really wanted to do with my life. Sure the SATs and GREs were important benchmarks that I had to score a certain level in order to move through higher education, but I was not one bit passionate about taking them. I can also emphatically state that both exams did absolutely nothing for me in terms of my career in education. There are so many problems with standardized tests that I can go on and on writing about them.

So why did I take them? The answer to this lies in society's overreliance on attempts to quickly and efficiently quantify learning. This is not learning but forced conformity into a system that focuses more on numbers than actual skills that can help one succeed in life. This comment from Lain Lancaster on the Google+ thread sums things up nicely:
"I'm baffled by your country's rush to standardization all across education systems (tests, common core etc.) when research has pretty much proven it's the opposite of what education should be.  (I'm in Canada) Not only that, but thanks to modern technologies, society in general is moving away from mass production/consumption to individualized production/consumption. Yes standardization is easier, and produces lots of pretty data, but there's scant evidence that it’s effective anywhere in realm of education."
So we continue to press forward in a direction that virtually everyone knows is wrong and misguided.  Why do companies like Google go out of their way to provide their employees with spaces where they can play and relax? Play has been stripped away from students so there can be more time to prepare for the tests. The best learning experiences I ever had were experiential in nature. They involved play, creativity, failure now and again, tinkering, collaboration, and meaningful feedback.  If life is all about preparing for and then excelling on standardized tests will that allow society to push forward and solve the plethora of pressing issues that our world faces today? The bottom line is that life is not a standardized test and results on these will rarely determine how successful our students will be in life. We all would be better served if school focused more on preparing students adequately to excel in the real-word instead of wasting time forcing them to take test after test that they see know value in. If true learning is what matters than we should model that in education.

So what are you thoughts?


  1. It is amazing how our educational systems have decided to standardize everything. We have pushed tests and assessments on these students because America is not the top ranked as far as education systems throughout the world. What is not being remembered is that other societies around the world often have the students who are attending school or higher education systems are those who are wealthy. In America, we teach all students no matter what their demographics or socio-economic status.

  2. Mr. Sheninger, excellent blog post. I couldn't agree more. Your message makes me think of one of my favorite Some eCards that reads, "The perfect way for me to demonstrate what I've learned in school is a standardized test - said no child ever." :) I fully support the movement away from standardized testing in our education system. Our children will benefit more from a dynamic education that teaches skills and creativity rather than how to take a test. Like you said, I never take standardized tests in my career. I do, however, have to know how to communicate (verbally and in writing), articulate, socialize, and take initiative on the job. I thank my high school teachers and college professors for exposing me to real-world situations in which I had to learn how to develop those skills. Thanks again for writing this post. PS: My instructional technology team is buying your latest book!

    1. Great points Leah! All those skills that you mention can never be measured by a standardized test, yet are instrumental in one's success in virtually every profession. I am also glad to hear that your team is getting my book :)

  3. So the question that comes into my head is why do they use this form of testing and why? and are two pieces of writing I have done that I would welcome feedback on

  4. Mr. Sheninger: you are of like minds with our team and how we approach education for students now. I invite you to contact me if you'd like to receive a copy of our 8 week program that is dramatically changing students' lives. They work in teams to solve local community/school issues that are important to them, and learn what their personal strengths are in the process, and then how to create value for those around them. This is having incredible results on the way students understand how to learn (not what to learn) in order to be successful at each step in their lives for themselves and others. I'm willing to offer you the program at no cost as your approach seems very simpatico with ours. We're here to help as many students as we can so just let me know if it's of interest and we'll connect. Thank you for the thoughtful blog posts. Onward and upward! Geraldine Smythe, CEO

  5. Mr. Sheninger, great post! I'm going through a grad class on assessment currently and my positions I've written about in my works has been very reflective of what you said here. I am in favor of moving away from standardized testing as much as possible also since it holds very little value towards actually benefiting the student in their learning process. In contrast, assessment that is built into the learning (as in self and peer reflection) can actually be used by the learner to improve while that specific learning is still ongoing. In cases such as assessing a project, it's very self evident whether learning has taken place. Also, in your opinion, how does a teacher handle required standardized testings when the focus of the learning model in the course is something like PBL?

  6. I just wrote a more lengthy comment and it didn't post :( The key is to create a culture that values PBL while removing the pressure/fear associated with standardized tests. This is what we did when I was principal and success in both areas followed.

  7. Eric I couldn't agree more. What concerns me is how much we rely on test results to make important decisions. I am most concerned about how much stress tests are putting on our youngest people. Four and five year olds having to worry about a test! That is immoral. We need to be "testing" our kids' morals and values and integrity. That is where I believe the emphasis should be. I will get off of my soapbox now but, I agree that if we want true learning to occur then we must remember how and when it takes place and not just rush to get a number that we can compile in a table or a chart.