August 30, 2011
It’s a common refrain: Teachers say that high-stakes tests constrain them in the classroom.
At our “On Education” panel last week, high school history teacher Stephen Lazar said he would would trade a higher salary for freedom from the Regents exam his students must pass to graduate.
“I would give up any raise in a second if you told me that once I showed that I can get my kids to pass the Regents — which I’ve shown over the past six years — that I can throw [the tests] out the window … and then I can really teach [students] how to think,” he said.
But what if the exams aren’t as limiting as Lazar and other teachers say? What if they’re actually useful? That’s the argument that Ama Nyamekye, a former city schoolteacher, makes in the Community section today.
In “A Teacher Finds Good In Testing,” Nyamekye describes what happened when she stopped resisting the Regents exam and started learning from it. She writes:
I once dismissed standardized testing for its narrow focus on a discrete set of skills, but I learned that my self-made assignments were more problematic. It turned out they were skewed in my favor. I was better at teaching literary analysis than grammar and punctuation. When I started giving ongoing standardized assessments, I noticed that my students showed steady growth in literary analysis, but less growth in grammar and punctuation. I was teaching to my strengths instead of strengthening my weaknesses.