At NovaNow last weekend I was part of an interesting discussion on assessment. Someone brought up the fact that she did not know what was going to be on the standardized state tests. A friend of mine in the room was very surprised that any teachers did not know what was on the tests (I believe because it was her primary job to make sure that teachers in her district were prepared for them).
I raised my hand and said that I had no idea what was on the state test. I think that I surprised my friend. I teach American History. The truth is that I do know that there are 40 multiple choice questions covering three years of social studies: World, American, Government, and Economics. So there are roughly 15 questions on my entire year of class.
The larger truth is that I just don’t care about the tests. In our class we look at the over arching themes of history: growth of democracy, especially for women and the Civil Rights Movement; America’s role in the world through the various wars and foreign policy; economic trends including the Great Depression, the prosperous fifties, stagflation, and current trends. We look at how America has grown as a country and how it has stayed the same. We look at all of these things and compare them to current events and policies.
But the state tests, ah the tests. They are like Trivia Crack. I swear that they were written by some history professors who ask the students about some minuscule fact or date. I feel like they are trying to trick students and make sure that I “cover” everything and don’t miss any details. The emphasis is on trivial facts of history that can easily be looked up in a million places.
I prefer to teach students how to think critically, see an event from multiple viewpoints, use the past to evaluate current trends and decisions, and to see the overarching trends of how America got to be what it is today. Those ideas are hard to turn into Trivia Crack questions. Until the state tests assess those kinds of things I just can’t worry about them. I refuse to sacrifice time spent challenging my kids to consider history deeply to force them to memorize facts.
Don’t get me wrong I love to play Trivia Crack and am pretty good at it. History is my best category with 82% correct. But I would hate to have myself evaluated by that score. Trivia is fun, but it is not what a history class should be about. History is meant to be studied in context to teach about our values and progress (or lack of it).
I guess what it comes down to is we can stress out about how our students will do on the tests and adjust our methods to things that we know are not beneficial to kids or we can teach kids the right way and chose not to worry about them. I have made my choice how about you?