Friday, January 7, 2011

Conduits and Buffers

Unfortunately, most teachers have come to see the standardized testing movement as a good part of their job description; and therefore, have resigned themselves to being mere conduits for the tests. In other words, many teachers have become agents of the state who are externally imposed to facilitate testing.

And yet by definition the best educators are those who act as a buffer to protect their students from the harmful effects of standardized testing.

So what's the difference between being a conduit and a buffer?

I have a couple thoughts:

Conduits tend to come in two flavours: either they are ignorant to the harmful effects of testing or they are apathetic towards doing anything to influence change. Sadly, there are some teachers who are products of our testing culture - their education was saturated with testing and so they know no other way.

Yet, there are many teachers who remember a time when testing was but a shadow of its present form; however, these veteran teachers have been worn down by a kind of bureaucratic friction that has eroded their opposition to standardized testing. For many of these veterans, self-preservation in this top-down, test and punish accountability scheme has brought on an acute case of apathy.

If even half the teachers in these testing bureaucracies refused their cooperation to save their students from the tests, we could make change over night.

So why hasn't this happened yet?

We don't lack the research and logic to oppose standardized testing - rather, we lack the courage to do so.


  1. The analogies might be reversed and there's the complexity. We need to be open conduits at times; facilitating the flow of information and ideas that will stimulate learning. Often the problem is we use curriculum requirements and policy to buffer young people from being exposed to ideas and information deemed inappropriate or unimportant.

    I'm glad you wrote this today because I am feeling the friction and it seems to come from within and not from the bureaucracy. That is how we buy into contemporary movements. I've been feeling uncertainty about how my students are progressing so naturally I am tempted to latch onto anything that offers certainty. It is the wrong thing to latch onto.

  2. Was directed here by J. Hamlyn, and glad I was.

    Have you watched Barry Schwartz's TED speech on wisdom?

    I just posted about Barry on my own blog. In the middle of this talk he mentions the very topic you're talking about here... mainly that any system that relies to heavily on rules and incentives demoralizes the people who work and live in that system, and he talks specifically about standardized testing in schools. My favorite part of his talk is simply that:

    "People want to be allowed to be virtuous."

    I gravitate towards that idea, because when people talk about fixing problems, there's this sort subversive notion that humanity is inherently evil, selfish, and misguided. I think that's incorrect, and it also undermines any chance we have of rising above current problems, my rendering those involved helpless and paralyzed with shame.

    I commend you for fighting the good fight from within... no easy task for sure.


  3. I love the idea. How is it done? For a real effect, you need solidarity. If three or four teachers stand up, they'll only be called out by administration.

    If every teacher in a school or district said "Don't even send the test, because we won't administer it," I'm guessing this would make an impact.

    But how do we get to this sort of unity?

  4. Very courageous post! Are you suggesting unions?

  5. Re: Standardized Testing…well-said, my sentiments too. Your view of teachers who have become ‘agents of the state’, made me think of where the students are in this model of education. The students we serve are NOT “children of the state” and do not belong to the state. They are children of families. In a democracy, the citizenry decides what education will look like for their children. Children who are taught how to develop critical thinking, problem solving, goal setting, constructing and creating are students who are well-educated and become productive adults for their families and communities.

    “Accountability” has no place in standardized testing; but can be found in a classroom at 3:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, with thirty six ELL seven graders (who scored below basic on standardized testing) who don’t move to go home when the bell rings. They are so intently engrossed in their projects…word processing their essays on feudalism, putting the finishing touches on their imovie, rehearsing their skit, carrying on the academic conversation about
    how feudal relationships provided the foundation of political order in medieval Europe. (A state standard) Administrators, please come visit and 'assess'. Talk with the students.

    I do believe teachers can turn the tide and have a responsibility to do so, at every meeting, every opportunity.

    By the way, I rarely give homework either, never give test or quizzes, but also am assessing everyday.

    Thank you for the work you do. Excellent!

    Kathy Redford

  6. How do we collectively refuse our cooperation? First we have to talk openly and actively about the harms of testing.

    Then teachers need to make damn sure their union is as much a union as it is a professional association. This means that when teachers negotiate their contracts, they must pay as much attention (or more) to pedagogy as their pay cheque.


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