I skipped last week's post due to several reasons outside of my control. So in this post, I want to talk about something that is a touchy subject for many individuals both in and outside of education: standardized testing.
Over the past week and a half, our school has been deep in the throws of final exams. It's that time of year that everyone both dreads and looks forward to simultaneously. According to individuals who clearly know better than me, standardized tests are the culmination of a year's worth of hard work where students demonstrate mastery of the skills learned. They also claim standardized testing shows how effective the teacher has been in preparing those students for their future. But what I think of when I consider these exams is hours spent in mindless, almost robotic, activity demonstrating memorization of terms but not mastery of anything. Now, bear in mind, that I can only speak on the exams given in my area of study, but I often hear other teachers complain about the same thing. So, you might ask, why do I feel this way? Let me explain.
As a game design teacher, I understand that it is important for students to know terms and definitions along with other background information about the industry. I mean, how else can I expect them to talk intelligently when comparing mechanics used in different game systems, discuss the tools an audio engineer utilize when creating sound effects, or explain the rationale for saving images in both native and rendered formats? Clearly, this information is critical to success in comprehending what we do and why we do it. So, standardized tests sound like a good way to test student knowledge! You would think they could identify which tool/term is being used when given a definition or scenario in which a task is being completed. So, once again, you might ask, then why do I feel this way about standardized testing?
Being a CTE teacher, I am very focused on preparing students for careers in industry. And, to be frank, terms and definitions are simply not even remotely on the industry's radar. Having spoken with several professional game designers, along with company recruiters, one glaring thing comes across as the most important thing they look for: what can you DO! College degrees and background are irrelevant, skills are not. Nor does industry care much about what the state crams into many of our yearlong curriculum, especially since course requirements rarely get updated more than once every 3-5 years. We all know technology doesn't take that long to progress and neither does industry. Heck...the current Sci Vis curriculum still requires students to know rudimentary information on 3.5" floppy disks! When is the last time you used one of those? And, like industry, the best teachers refuse to wait that long to update the material and lessons used in their classrooms. Updating curriculum as we go does a better job of preparing students for life outside of our classroom walls, even if this knowledge does nothing or has a minimal effect on preparing them for standardized testing. In fact, doing so often burns through time that is needed to introduce students to the tested material in our often over-inflated curriculum. And, personally, it absolutely kills me to share outdated information with my students solely because it might appear on their final exam. So, I tend to preface such material by saying that although the students will likely never see this information outside of school, they might need to know it for their exam at the end of the year. Then, we move on again.
Don't get me wrong, I fully believe that having good background understanding and well-rounded knowledge of the industry as a whole is important to forming a better student and employee. I am fully invested in this belief. But, standardized testing, which can often make or break a student's ability to proceed forward in their education, simply does not demonstrate mastery of the material, it only shows rote memorization. And, much (though clearly not all) of that material is already dated within a year of curriculum being released to teachers. It is easy to learn terms and definitions with the old drill-and-kill method of studying that many of us used years ago to pass exams back when we were in school. These are the reasons that I find (most) standardized testing to be a gigantic waste of time and resources.
Here's something to ponder: think back to when you were in school and had to pass that all-important exam on, say, world history. How many of those facts do you still know today and of those that you do remember, how many do you regularly use in your life now? I bet the answer is very few, if any at all. How has being able to identify information on a multiple choice test improved your life as a person, citizen or employer/employee? I bet it hasn't. That's not to say that a basic understanding of the concepts you learned in those classes hasn't made you a better person. It's the overarching concepts and skills, not the specifics, that made you a more well rounded individual and a better person. Not being able to identify who signed any particular treaty or what year something happened.
Yes, students should be tested on understanding of material at the end of the year. But, these exams should include some form of hands-on demonstration of skills combined with a more comprehensive display of knowledge rather than low-level thinking such as identification of a term on a multiple choice test., especially in classes such as those taught by CTE teachers. Then, and only then, will my opinion of end-of-year exams change with regard to their ability to demonstrate student mastery of the information and materials they are presented in our classes.
So, as another school year draws to a close, I wish all students a restful summer. I look forward to seeing you again next Fall in my classroom where we will continue exploring the skills and tools used in the game industry.
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.