Standardized Testing, Common Core, and Montessori
Equally important as the debate of technology in Montessori classrooms is the debate on high stakes testing and the Common Core. While authentic private Montessori schools often limit or exclude standardized tests altogether, charter and public Montessori schools must administer them to demonstrate AYP (adequate yearly progress) and thus to retain their charter.
Standardized tests will be used to measure progress against the Common Core Standards, which is a government created and endorsed guideline for what children are expected to learn. We have many very knowledgeable, passionate Montessorians who are working together to identify and align specific Montessori lessons and materials with the Common Core Standards. The purpose of this is to demonstrate Montessori's effectiveness in achieving or exceeding the Common Core Standards. Public and Charter Montessori schools should benefit from this effort. Benefits include positive attention and press for Montessori in general and the inevitable expansion of it in the public sector. However, have we as Montessorians engaged in enough broad debate to understand how our alignment to the Common Core impacts our long-term mission and vision? By choosing to align to the Common Core Standards, the Montessori Community may be overlooking an opportunity to lead the debate on two very critical elements: 1) the role of government in education and 2) the validity and effects of standardized testing.
Role of government in education:
The first question I have is whether a government should create or even suggest what types of content curriculum should include. When a government determines curriculum it is inherently placing more value on some types of content and less on other types. There are two problems with this: 1) It assumes government somehow knows which content will provide the most return to its economic engine in the future (this is impossible to know) and 2) it creates an impersonal culture of education derived from logistics and efficiencies built on the false premise that all children learn in the same way and should know the same things by a certain age. A child is not a product to be manufactured by a government and should not be commoditized as such.
Validity of standardized testing:
Even assuming we can all agree on the role of government in education, that role being to determine what our children know and by when, have we expressed concerns about the validity of the method of assessing progress against the Common Core Standards? There are many reasons why standardized tests are not effective methods of assessment, beyond the obvious fact that they take away school time that could be used for experimentation and inquiry and devote that time instead to rote memorization. Among those reasons, here are five as reported by Phyllis Pottish-Lewis in the AMI/USA Journal, Winter 2013:
1) Standardized tests lack content validity. 2) They show a bias to certain cultural groups. 3) Standardized test results demonstrate a low correlation with actual classroom performance. 4) Standardized test results do not account for variance in the preparation and administration of the tests. 5) Standardized testing is subject to many variables that pollute the results including incentives, stress and anxiety, and whether or not children slept or even ate well before being tested.
By seeking to align to the Common Core, even though the short-term benefits would appear to be substantial, the Montessori community may be doing itself a disservice in the long run, since both the Common Core Standards themselves and the method of assessment used to measure progress against them are fundamentally misguided and flawed.
Dr. Maria Montessori modeled the behavior that we should emulate today. She was a ferocious defender of the child's spirit and his or her rights as a human being.
How are we serving the child by aligning Montessori to a pre-determined curriculum known as the Common Core Standards which are measured by a flawed assessment? Don't we, as Montessorians, owe children more, knowing what we know about their social, emotional and developmental needs? Instead of leading, or at least engaging in this much needed debate, some within the Montessori community instead have chosen to bypass it altogether, thereby indirectly, if inadvertently, endorsing an active role of big government in education as well as the use of standardized tests as if they were effective methods of assessment.
Missing this opportunity to expand the dialogue can only perpetuate the existence of these outdated and ineffective elements of traditional education: predetermined curriculum and standardized testing.