At the end of her article “Leaving Standardized Testing Behind,” Haley Sweetland Edwards offers the possibility that “it’s time to think outside the margins” of using now ubiquitous large-scale standardized assessment to try to understand how well our students are learning. “Perhaps the origami-frog unit in Tosiello’s third-grade class,” she suggests, “offers all the insight we need.”
Maybe not ALL the insight we need, but it’s a significant start. Indeed, it is time to think outside the margins; continuing to focus the debate around how to ensure equitable education through standardized testing is like trying to drive a car by looking only at the fuel gauge. Such information may be important (or it may not be, depending on what you’re trying to do), but over-relying on one piece of data is just as useless in a classroom.
The portrait of Tosiello’s prac tice, portraying a teacher involved in authentic assessment motivated by his inquiry into students’ learning in context (not by externally mandated accountability structures) is precisely the type of work that educational policymakers and administrators should seek out and support.
Working as Mr. Tosiello is, taking what some call a formative assessment stance, requires a much more complicated view toward students, their performance, and their development. The powers of observation, knowledge of content and how students learn it, and time to consider how observation should shape instruction are not easy to come by–a significant reason why we’ve become so addicted to the seeming efficiency of testing in the first place.
But apparent efficiency and actual effectiveness are worlds apart, in much the same way the information a teacher learns from a bubbled-in answer sheet is nothing like what a teacher learns from actively seeking out the complex information he or she needs to adjust instruction to students’ current understanding or performance.