Teacher: New tests pose challenges

This past school year saw an upheaval of the state standardized test. The implementation of the computerized M-STEP, replacing the MEAP, caused trepidation among professionals dedicated to educating Michigan’s youth.

The reason why may not be so obvious, and not well explained. To understand the complications of what a new test imposes, one must understand the workings among curriculum, methodology and assessment.

Curriculum is what is to be learned; methodology is how it is to be learned; and assessment measures whether it has it been learned. These three elements create a triangle of pedagogical policy. Traditionally, the teacher and the school participates in each of the three equally. This could still be considered true, but as education has become less localized, it is far from absolute. With curriculum increasingly dominated by state and Common Core national standards, and assessment more driven by outside sources, the teacher attempts to tie the two together through methodology.

The curriculum is bestowed on the teacher, and he or she has the obligation to teach it. Yet even though the standardized test is geared toward assessing the curriculum, it is not coming from the same source. This creates a situation where the teacher is mediating between the two. At the same time, the test dictates whether a school is deemed viable. The school, and of course the teacher, is coerced into teaching to the test. Test prep classes have popped up at high schools around the area to close the gap between new assessments and former curriculum.

Since there have been so many changes to the testing, and more to change for next year, the methodology must somehow match the assessment. Except when dealing with a terminal test like the SAT, students may not have been taught with a methodology focused on this test for the past so many years. Schools have been focused on student achievement for the ACT since 2007, and The College Board is rolling out a new SAT that has never been administered for general use. This SAT is replacing the ACT next year in Michigan high schools.

Large statewide tests like the M-STEP and SAT test on a range of skills that are built up over the entire span of the students’ educational lives. The teacher is left picking up the pieces of a swirling education policy having to constantly shift and remold instruction for a test and curriculum that not only changes but presents itself in mystery.

Many times the details or even clear objectives of these tests are not revealed to teachers charged with the task of educating to these tests. The teacher will still teach through lesson plans, instruction and assessing, but each day is slightly different every time there is a change in testing. No one seems to be sure how any of it will really shake out.

Paul Ruth, high school teacher,

East Detroit High School