Many of us are in the throes of testing season, and with many schools implementing the new CCSS aligned tests for the first time, it is bound to be a month of fret and anxiety. I remember administrators at my previous school declaring “no field trips in April” because preparing for the big state test was too important. I also remember teachers abandoning the intellectually demanding, relevant curriculum to do test drills and collect data to predict which students were “on the bubble” and thus deserving of extra help to get them to “proficiency.”

If you’re suffering from any of these issues, you may find some solace in this post from a few years ago!

This week we are talking about transforming schools into places that cultivate world changers.

You may be thinking to yourself “I’d love to do that, but what I really need to do is get students to pass X test.”  

 Here’s some food for thought on that tension.

 Back in 2001, researchers in Chicago* looked into the idea that you either have to focus on test prep or more authentic learning.  Specifically they set out to answer this question:

“What happens to students’ scores on standardized tests of basic skillswhen urban teachers in disadvantaged schools assign work that demands complex thinking and elaborated communication about issues important in students lives?”

 What did they find?

“When teaching emphasizes such intellectual activity in classrooms, Chicago youngsters have demonstrated both complex intellectual performance and simultaneously impressive gains on standardized tests.”

Which led them to this conclusion…

“Assignments calling for more authentic intellectual work actually improve students scores on conventional tests.  The results suggest that, if teachers, administrators, policymakers, and the public at-large place more emphasis on authentic intellectual work in classrooms, yearly gains on standardized tests in Chicago could surpass national norms.”

In a nutshell, high stakes tests vs. world changing is a false dichotomy.

So as you consider the challenges to transformation, keep this research in mind.  It certainly isn’t meant to imply that the tension between high stakes testing and world changing is easily overcome with a few quotations from a report, but it’s a start.