I often hear educators say...
We could be teaching differently if it weren't for 'the tests.'
We could do a better job of meeting our students' needs if it weren't for 'the tests.'
I emphatically dispute these assertions. We must take ownership of our own culpability.
Our prevalent instructional model that emphasizes low-level, decontextualized, factual recall was dominant long before 'the tests.' Our challenges of providing higher-order thinking experiences, opportunities for authentic collaboration, and real-world connectedness existed long before the No Child Left Behind Act. Our inability to effectively facilitate empowered technology usage, true cultural/global awareness, and other necessary skills for a digital, global, information age is a byproduct of long-held, deeply-rooted cultural and pedagogical norms, not recently-acquired beliefs and behaviors.
Is anyone willing to argue that achievement gaps were smaller before evil NCLB came along and messed us all up? Does anyone think that we were doing a fine job of meeting the needs of underserved populations before 'the tests?' Have we all forgotten that school has been boring for generations?
It's not 'the tests.' It's our unwillingness and/or inability to do something different, something better.
It's not 'the tests.' It's us.
UPDATE: There are some phenomenal comments below. I hope you'll take a few moments to read them. Be sure to also read Greg Thompson's reaction to this post.