How important is testing our children in New Jersey?
The subject of standardized testing has become the benchmark of educational practices these days. Newspaper headlines proudly (?) announce that 72% of the children tested actually succeeded to score at or above the desired level in towns that pride themselves on their schools. In those districts where many problems such as poverty make education a struggle, scores as low as 20 or 30% passing may be proclaimed positively because they are better than last year’s scores. Does testing prove that schools are succeeding or failing? Can you test the most important outcomes of a good education?
The answer to both questions is no. In the first place schools reporting good scores are only succeeding at teaching the skills that help their children pass the test. They may be failing miserably at some of the more esoteric goals of education such as creative thinking, the ability to generalize knowledge and apply it to new situations, and the ability to “think outside the box.” In fact, many children who do think creatively have difficulty on standardized tests because they over think the questions and consider more than one solution.
Students are not one dimensional. Some perform poorly in school yet test wonderfully. Others, who perform well in class, freeze up in testing situations and end up with poor results.
The purpose of education is to immerse students in the culture of their nation and time period so they can arrive at adulthood informed, enriched, and capable. Skills that may have been highly valued fifty years ago may or may not still be important to emphasize. The twenty first century has been called the Information Age. We are bombarded with more information than we can possibly digest but can access random facts with a few key strokes. Our children need a different form of education. We believe our children must also acquire qualities such as honesty, tolerance, justice, respect for self and others, and responsibility not only for one’s self but for the betterment of the whole society. A school that is required to devote most of its time to test preparation, practice, and drill has little time left for these ideas.
There is something to be said about the importance of having an informed citizenry. Knowledge of the arts, philosophy, historical trends, literature, and multi-culturalism may or may not transfer easily to “necessary job skills” but are certainly important. A student who has memorized historical dates without having time to explore the causes and effects of any given situation will not be able to make an informed choice in the voting booth thirty years from now! The adult who did not have time in childhood to work cooperatively, as part of a mini-society, will be looking out only for him or herself in adulthood without any concern for the greater good of the entire society. Aiming only for high test scores, and the external trappings of “success,” are at the root of every scandal and most of the other dishonest practices we see in the world today.
How do you test the esoteric? How do you teach it? Certainly not with skill and drill workbooks.
Children learn what they experience. They must be immersed in an educational process that honors not only personal excellence but also personal commitment. A good education takes time and the support of the parents and teaching staff working together to immerse children in the factual as well as the esoteric. Mistakes must be tolerated and viewed as learning experiences rather than as failures.
In the best situations tests must be viewed as evaluations. They provide an opportunity to see what children know and what they need more time to process. Assessment is not the end of the educational process. It is a jumping off point for what still needs to be addressed. While we use the tests in this manner, to inform our educational decisions for your child, not every school does.
Children should enjoy the testing process: not fear it. The child, and his or her parents, should come away from the testing experience with a clearer view of what has been accomplished – and where the next step is for that particular child. Perhaps exploring how math was “invented” by ancient mathematicians or how it has been used in the space program, architecture, or computer programming. Conversely, a child who needs more time to master a basic skill should have it but that rarely happens in education. The test is graded and the class moves on. The child who only needs more time is instead labeled a failure and put in a remedial math class where he or she may never have an opportunity to understand why math is so important and fascinating.
When you look at your child’s test scores later this year try to view them in a broader light. If your child’s score is high ask yourself, “How else can I challenge my child?” rather than simply sitting back feeling satisfied that your child is one of the bright ones who is going to make it in this world. Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”
If your child does not score as well as you had hoped, ask yourself, “How do I help?” Visit a museum instead of a mall. Read a book instead of watching a video. Talk about the ethics behind a situation at the dinner table instead of just who did what to whom at work today. There are countless opportunities to expand your child’s impressionable and impressive young mind.