Selling my soul, or not

Over the last couple years I have found my way into endless discussions regarding the nature of assessment, the idea of common or equitable assessment, and impact standardized testing is taking on education as a whole. As my school attempts to recover from years of misdirection, we have had to explore these issues on a regular basis and really try and balance the idea that much of what we do with our students on a day-to-day basis cannot be measured on a 60 questions multiple choice exam. The notion that it can seems laughable. 180 days of discussions, projects, lectures, readings, etc. cannot be boiled down that far. Can it? Not only that, but are those intangibles and learning opportunities actually more valuable to the students as they progress through their education?

What is more important? That the student memorizes the dates and specific facts of a historical topic, or that he or she learns skills that might allow them to understand similar situations there (here) in the real world. Do we sacrifice lessons with that push critical thinking, public speaking, debate preparation, and technological literacy in favor of facts. The answer is obvious, right? But, we still have that darn state testing. And it looks like it isn’t going away any time soon.

This conversation has been going on for years. It is really old news, I know that. But for me, there is another side to it. What about AP classes? I love my AP kids, but in the end, I teach to the test. In AP World History, we are on a forced march across the ages and through a laundry list of skills (many of which important “big picture” skills that will help in life). I specifically address the types of essays they will be writing and how to do well on each one – sometimes at the expense of a more holistic approach to writing. I guess the main difference between AP tests and state testing is that the AP test directly helps the student. I guess that is enough. For now at least.

I do know that if I had taken AP history classes, I might not be here. The spark that ignited my love of history (and then teaching) was based in projects and discussions. I don’t remember the tests, though I’m sure I had them, but I do remember thinking and obsessing over skits, video productions, art projects, short stories, and debates. These ideas defined continue to My goal has always been to bring smaller chunks those types of lessons to AP, but is it enough?

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