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Assessment Without High Stakes Testing

The summary below is excerpted from the article, “Assessment Without High Stakes Testing” written by David Mitchell, Douglas Gerwin,  Ernst Schuberth, Michael Mancini, and Hansjorg Hofrichter for the Waldorf Research Bulletin, Autumn/Winter 2008. It was summarized by Barbara Bedingfield

Since 2002 when the promise of “No Child Left Behind” was adopted, billions of  state and federal tax dollars have been spent on high-stakes testing, even down to prepping preschoolers.  While the intent was noble–to provide every child with a good enough education–application of NCLB has led to heightened stress and demoralization in children, to the usurping of the art of education from  teachers, and to the use of information derived from testing for non-educational purposes such as grading, ranking, manipulating salaries and profiling students.  The sad truth is that children don’t learn faster or better by being subjected to high-stakes testing.1

Is the purpose of education to fill an empty bucket?

If the main purpose of education is simply the transmission of information, then a teacher’s task is to pour in.  The word instruction comes from the Latin, structus, meaning to pour stones into an empty vessel. Hence, education that has become ‘teaching to the tests.

Is the purpose of education to prepare a work force?

If the main purpose of education is to prepare students for the workforce, testing will focus on skills having to do with economic values such as competition, efficiency, and speed.  Hence, education that has become ‘teaching to the tests.’

Is the purpose of education to become responsible citizens?

If the purpose of education is to prepare students to become responsible citizens, the motive for teaching is to fill them with the values of a society and align themselves with their political and social environment.  Hence, education that has become standardized and ‘‘teaching to the tests.’

Thomas Jefferson explicitly inspired a system of education designed to strengthen the individual against the tyranny of social norms and conventions and to cultivate a generation of leaders who would ceaselessly renew society out of their own insights and their own thinking.

So the true  purpose of education is not to fill children with instruction, train them for the work force or outfit them as good citizens.  The word education comes from the Latin word, ducere, meaning to draw out, to draw forth from a student what he or she in some sense already knows, whether implicitly or explicitly. True education happens slowly over time, has meaning and context, and addresses all ways of learning: visual  auditory, and kinesthetic.

Waldorf education has eschewed high stakes standardized testing for 100 years and has practiced an art of education that presupposes a science of education based on accurate observation of children as they pass through distinct phases in their development from early childhood and elementary grades to the high school years and beyond.  During these years children learn in radically different ways. In all the phases, the overarching purpose of education is to assist human unfolding.  To quote Rudolf Steiner, creator of the Waldorf school curriculum:

“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”

To learn more about Waldorf education and the myriad ways in which children’s progress is evaluated without the use of high-stakes testing, visit the Suncoast Waldorf School and witness children who are happy, free of stress, and eager to learn for learning’s sake.

1  See Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner,  Collateral Damange: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts American’s Schools,  Cambride, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2007.