I am continually troubled by how fixated we continue to be on multiple choice testing as a measure of our students. I am even more troubled that it is the sole measure of districts, schools, and teachers. In this measure, educational organizations will absolutely silence innovative ways of approaching education for the betterment of test scores. So…in this troubled state, I broke down my experiences with this sterilized tool of multiple choice. I thought back to the times in my life where multiple choice testing was of importance to me. My very first experience was to get my driving license. I had to study, but that is not what made me a good driver. Driving is what made me good (relatively speaking). The next step was to go to college so I had to embark into the ACT. I spent some time preparing for the ACT through minimal test prep, but the test prep and the ACT did not tell me what I knew and did not know. My experience with reading texts and writing papers did that. All this test told me was what college would accept me and gave me no meaningful feedback. The next test was the PSAT, which was the teaching certification test that I had to take in order to become licensed. I truly cannot tell you a thing that was on that test and it did not predict how good of a teacher I could be. It said nothing of my ability and quite honestly was a waste of time. My last experience was taking the ESL Praxis to become endorsed to teach ESL students. I studied some…mostly through memorization…and took the test and it did not indicate anything to me about how well I could instruct ESL students. In fact, I remember very little of what was on the test. What I do know about ESL instruction did not come from this test but through implementation with real students in real classrooms.
I am currently 35 years old, approximately 19 years of formal schooling, 30 years being involved in education in some sort of capacity, and adding up these tests, approximately 12 hours of my life were spent on high stakes multiple choice assessments. None of it I utilize today. In fact, I learned nothing from these 12 hours . This story is similar to most people I know.
On the other hand, I spend every single day of my life and career reading, problem solving, writing, creating, collaborating, speaking, listening, and imagining. I constantly wrestle with dilemmas, learn to work with people in different ways and capacities, deal with emotion, and making sense of life. I have to get up and speak in front of groups of people daily, weekly, monthly. None of these moments require a multiple choice test for me to articulate and show what I have learned and know. My passion is not dictated nor displayed through such a form of assessment. Rather, it is through the website I am creating for curriculum, the emails I send daily to the people I work with, the blog I am writing right now to share my thoughts. It is the products I have been asked to make sense of the Common Core curriculum and working through it. None of the skills I use need a multiple choice test nor can it measure my knowledge in these areas. In fact, if I ended every professional learning session that I had ever done with teachers with a multiple choice test to see if they learned what we were processing, whether it be incrementally, quarterly, or yearly, I would probably lose my job…or at least be run out by the teachers.
Why is it then that when we know that the majority of our lives are spent in authentic real tasks and such a minimal portion of our lives are spent in high stakes multiple choice testing, we continue to perpetuate a test prep curriculum killing our students enjoyment of education. We need to spend the majority of our work engaging in the things that matter most. Reading, writing, creating, collaborating, communicating. Students need to be an environment where they are able to experiment with learning, find their passions and voices, and embrace problems and failures as opportunities. Multiple choice testing sends the message that there is one right answer and only one right answer and we have forced this mentality into our educational institutions. This form of assessment has tunneled us into a right or wrong mentality which allows little room for exploration of creativity, passion, divergent thinking, or access to quality ideas.
In saying this, we have an opportunity with a standard change and a waiver year in Kansas to reconceptualize the way we view and think about standards based education. We have the opportunity to take what we know to be good practice, disregard and avoid what has proven not to work, and embrace authentic engaging instructional design. In the big picture of a quality life, a very, very small percentage of the time is ever spent on high stakes multiple choice testing that matters and very little knowledge is retained through such a method. In fact, I have a dream… that if we completely did away with multiple choice testing due to the amount of costly damage it has done to our educational system, we could start dreaming again. Are we brave enough to fight the political for the authentic?