One of the latest trends in our public school system has been the overkill of standardized testing. While the use of these sorts of tests are nothing new to public education, the obsessive level our schools have taken them to is troubling.
Ask five different people what they feel about standardized testing, and you’re likely to get five different answers. The common consensus is that this can, indeed, be a viable option to understand where a student needs to grow, but, on the other hand, it is in no way a true assessment of a child’s knowledge.
Let’s face it. There are some children (and adults) who simply are not good test takers. Some may panic at the thought of being timed. Others realize the emphasis their schools put on test scores, and it may take their stress level to a point where they are no longer able to think- even to the point of becoming physically ill. And still others who have a hard time sitting still may decide to just mark any old answer in order to complete the test more quickly.
Does this mean they are less intelligent?
Absolutely not. It just means that some people are more suited to this assessment method.
Standardized Tests Now Considered the Highest Priority
Presently, our education system has placed such a high priority on test scores that schools all over the nation have abandoned former methods of teaching in lieu of “teaching to the test.” This has become a common buzz phrase in regards to criticism of public schools, but what exactly does this look like in the classroom? It is simply the removal of any in-depth, creative lessons, in order to increase the amount of time learning how to “fill in the bubbles,” make educated guesses via the process of elimination, and cover any material which will be in the test by way of endless, repeated drills.
Unfortunately, this new approach to learning has not only dominated the classrooms but has taken over many after-school programs, as well. Extracurricular test prep classes have been instituted for years, and these programs at least do not hide their intent; however, these test drilling methods have insidiously begun to work their way into after-school activities that were once meant to simply ignite a love of learning.
Once Fun Events are Being Turned into More Test Prep
Several years ago when my children were attending public school, we used to attend a “Book Blast” event once a month. During this time, volunteers from various businesses would come in to read a story aloud to the children, do a fun activity with them, and then send every child home with a free book. My children and I always looked forward to it.
Last year, we ran into one of my children’s former teachers. She informed us that homeschoolers were welcome at these events, and she encouraged us to attend. My kids were very excited at the prospect of visiting their old school to participate in an activity which they always enjoyed, so we went to the very next one.
We were horrified at what this once fun event had become. What was formerly a night of leisurely activities had completely transformed into a quickie session on test taking skills.
Since the classes were split up by grade, I attended the Kindergarten session with my 4-yr.-old daughter. There was a volunteer seated at the front of the classroom with a book, so we had no idea how much things had changed- until this volunteer began rambling on about the word “synergy.” After giving a confusing definition of this word, she proceeded to begin the story.
I’m going to confess now that I’ve got to give school children credit if this is what they have to endure during story time because I had a horrible time trying to sit still and couldn’t wait until it was over.
You see, on every other page of the book was a yellow post-it note. Whenever the volunteer would get to the page with the sticky note, she would stop reading the story and start talking about “synergy” again. And again. And again. And again. What would easily have been a five minute story- ten minutes tops if you have an inquisitive child- turned into a 25-minute narration which had absolutely no flow to it because of how many times the reader stopped in the middle of the book. I truly don’t know how these students even knew what was happening in the storyline- it’s a good possibility they didn’t- because I couldn’t even pay attention.
After what seemed like an eternity, she finished the book, and I was glad for the potential reprieve of this boredom. No such luck. She immediately pulled a white board easel out which had questions on it with multiple choice answers- fill in the bubble, of course. She spent another ten minutes trying to pull answers out of these kids who obviously didn’t give a hoot as to what she was talking about.
Finally, she said it was time for the activity, which just so happened to be a picture on which you were supposed to cut out which phrases were examples of synergy and paste them to one section, and then cut out the phrases which were not and paste them somewhere else. My daughter looked up at me helplessly and asked me if she could just color it. I told her she could, and we spent the rest of the session with the volunteer stopping to ask us how we were doing with the assignment when it was obvious we had no intentions of doing it at all.
Before we left, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire about this event, and I’ll tell you right now that I’m sure they weren’t too thrilled with what I had to say. (Thank goodness they didn’t ask for my name.)
Ultimately, I decided that we would no longer attend these events because I want my kids to love reading, not despise it, which is exactly what programs like this are bound to do.
That decision was proven to be the right choice when I later ran into another teacher from the school. While we were chatting, she informed me that instead of having “Book Blast” events, they have changed it to “Reading Comprehension Night,” and she invited us to come. I thanked her for the invitation and left it at that because we never intend to attend one of these again.
On the upside, I am glad that they changed the name so that parents will at least have an idea of what is in store for them during those nights. Apparently, instilling a love of reading has become second to teaching kids how to take tests, and it is unfortunate.
It is unfortunate that a nation that touts education as the be all and end all of life has taken what could be a great thing- free education for all- and ground it into the dirt until the only thing left of it is what remains on the bottom of the shoe…
…a once ferociously curious mind that has been completely depleted of inspiration after desperately trying to survive in a test heavy atmosphere.
Children have to know. They have to see. Learning is an adventure.
But will they believe it? It’s time to take the focus off of these tests and begin anew before children don’t even remember that learning can be any fun at all.