Testing vs. Relationships
by William Boyle


There are many reasons to dislike standardized testing. The most common ones have to do with justice (testing and socio-economic issues), and these are powerful, important arguments. However, as a classroom teacher I'm concerned with the ways such tests reflect and condone a way of imagining learners as objects. That is, content is imagined to be static and learners are regarded simply as objects who are to be stuffed with static content. (Think of Friere's' "banking" metaphor.) This is a metaphor with some dire consequences.

Think of learning that you have regarded in your own life as authentic. Consider something that you know well, that you know "in your bones", and has become a part of who you are as a human being, not just an object or one who serves a specific role. I would be willing to bet that this was learned in a relationship. All learning that leads to more learning, that is authentic, occurs in relationship. It occurs in relationship to another person and in relationship to the content being learned. Teachers and students are always involved in relationships, and the way we imagine those relationships determines their quality. Those who value testing fail to consider this. That does not mean that teachers who test are exempt from such relationships. No, sorry, but that is impossible. It does mean that these teachers unconsciously allow testing to help shape and limit the relationships that can occur in a classroom and therefore diminish their own effect as teachers. 

My job as a teacher is to know as deeply as possible the hopes and dreams of students, because to work in this way is an attempt to tie the content of my classroom into the deepest longings of humanity. I want the things students learn in my classroom to help sustain their humanity. I want to expand the possibilities and hope for my students. Testers don't consider such things. Louis Kahn wrote, "The more deeply something is engaged in the unmeasurable, the more deeply it has a lasting value." How much more difficult is it for me as a teacher to reach for the unmeasurable within my students when my public accountability has to do only with test scores? How much more difficult is it to treat students as wholly human when their value is reduced to a utilitarian test score? How much more difficult is it to work with students in relationships of quality when my public accountability as a teacher is reduced to the numbers that are produced from the objectified students in my classroom.? The insidious negativity of testing has much to do with how it reduces our humanity to that which can be quantified. Testing has an implicit negative morality tied to it. It is a morality which states that humans (students and teachers here) have only utilitarian purpose that they are judged by. It imagines teachers and students only as objects, and therefore implies that they are to behave in a manner that reflects such a limited imagination. (See any potential connections to school shootings?) The basic respect for their humanity is taken away. Does this not affect me as a teacher? Of course it does. It reflects a serious degradation of what I do. It imagines learning in such a way that its power is reduced to economics, and this affects the relationships, and therefore the quality of learning in the classroom.


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