LEFT BEHIND ANYWAY?

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Most Americans have attended public schools. They are therefore experts on curriculum development, educational philosophy, methods of instruction, and classroom management. Oh. You detected that note of sarcasm, did you?

Public education is like the weather. Everyone complains about it, but no one knows quite what to do about it. Well, I have a novel idea: Get out of the way, and let teachers teach. NOT teach to tests. But teach kids—not only to read and write and do sums, but to enjoy these activities without the stress of tests looming over them like Damocles’ sword.

Those infernal fill-in-the-bubble tests. Tests intended not to find individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and thus build on the former and remedy the latter, but tests to label a school as competent or not.

In the best of all possible educational worlds, a test should challenge and teach and allow students to show what they do know, not just supply some sort of percentage measure of their shortcomings—and, by extension, the shortcomings of their teachers and schools.

A proper test over content covered in the classroom is made up by a teacher who knows not only his or her material, but also his or her students and the test is evaluated by that same teacher on the basis of what was covered and what the teacher knows of the students. Such instruments are time-consuming to make and time-consuming to grade. Impossibly so for a high school teacher facing 150 students a day in a given subject area and equally difficult for an elementary teacher dealing with 30 students in five or more subjects.

I am not suggesting there is no place in education for standardized tests. However, the current exaggerated emphasis is not only leaving many children behind, but is driving many a good teacher out of the classroom.

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