Will all education systems go down the same path?

Over the last week I have been wrestling with a comment that has annoyed me and disturbed me. It is one that I cannot, or more so do not, want to accept. It is causing violence to my mind, which isn’t a bad thing to quote from Plato at the Googleplex – why philosophy wont go away:

Philosophical thinking that doesn’t do violence to one’s settled mind is no philosophical thinking at all. (location 711 of Kindle e-book)

Will Australian education end up in the same place as that of the USA system, where a common core has standards that are directly linked to high stakes testing that are used to determine a teacher’s effectiveness as an educator, and hence, has the obvious impact of job security.

This raises more questions than answers for me. Firstly, should educators be assessed on the test results of their students? Interesting concept if you ask me, considering that the student is an interesting complicated person who has so many different variables impacting on who they are, and consequently how they are then engaging in the learning process. Secondly, is education just a business selling a product that can be easily evaluated via the meeting of targets? If this is what our students are to us, part of a business model, then I feel extremely disillusioned by the value that one places on the person and their value to our society.

If I dig deeper into this concept of a common curriculum that then ends up assessing an educators effectiveness I can only start to listen to the underlying concerns, anxieties and pressures that are surrounding the comments I hear educators impacted by this make, especially early career teachers. What does this do to the practice of teaching and consequently the learning. Does it cause educators to focus on the test and the result rather than the learning process and the depth and breadth of this incredible process that can engage, enlighten and empower?

Last night in one of my classes a brief discussion around the impact of economics, politics and power were discussed in relation to culture. This touched on the drivers to participate in WW1 and WW2, along with the impact of 9/11 and the GFC. I can’t help but wonder if education is  now a porn with regard to a race to the top to ensure that a country does not lose its foothold or position. Are we really in a race? What do these test scores and country comparisons re educational test scores really mean? Are they a direct reflection on how a country will perform economically, politically and how much power it holds? Why has education been caught up in this?

So the comment that has sat with me for the last week is that Australia will be where the USA is at, regarding education, in five years. With regard to this I hope we learn from others, I hope we see the impact that testing attached to rating educators effectiveness has on what happens in the classroom. It was interesting to see in a forum I am part of, due to being in a visual literacy class, the comment (and I am summarising) that kids are bored in class and they are being made to memorise and recite. I questioned this comment as to whether or not this was about poor teaching, as that is the underlying assumption that teachers are not doing a good job, or is it impacted by greater systematic policy and requirements. This then led to the systematic issue being addressed and that educators are part of a system. My question is if we create an environment that does not focus on learning but rather focuses on a test score how will that be represented in the classroom?

I feel exceptionally humbled to have been involved in the learning of a number of early career teachers and now undergrads here in the USA. I have found one situation particularly inspiring. I have seen an early career teacher struggle with the test and its impact on the approach one takes in the classroom. I have watched this educator wrestle with this, knowing that it impacts on future career opportunities (basic employment at this stage). I have seen this educator be prepared to take a risk (and it is a huge risk to step away from teaching to a test when your livelihood is impacted by it and you have no personal evidence that there are other ways to do this) to focus on learning. Learning where the higher levels of Blooms are engaged and students are provided opportunity to focus on their interests, and where the tasks provided become authentic for the learners in the classroom due to the employment of strategies that overlay all they do. This educator is brave, it is hard to fight a system that so easily pushes one down the teach to the test path. All educators that break away from teaching to the test are taking a risk. The risk of judgement is the risk. Their students are still learning so the risk is not about the core business of the educator.

So will Australia follow down the same path as the USA with high stakes testing that determines a teachers effectiveness? If we do what will then happen to subjects that are not directly associated with the tests? Will they be dropped from the school curriculum due to the fact that more time is needed to get that test score?

Personally I believe culture plays a huge part of where Australia will end up with regard to this comment that has irked me for over a week. We are different to those countries that have gone down this path, the USA is not the only country to focus on high stakes testing. It will play out differently, but to what extent? Predictions are hard to make. The journey that we are on is up to us to determine.

Finally, what are we losing by placing so much emphasis on tests in such a manner?

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