For the past 20 years or so this country has been engaged in a never ending race to tweak our schools. All this comes under the guise of improvement. Now I am not stating that I feel improving our schools and education system is a silly goal and not worth consideration, but I am skeptical of the modality with which we have chosen to do so. That being high stakes testing. As an educator for ten years in Massachusetts I have witnessed an unprecednted expansion of our testing, MCAS, at all levels. It is so pervasive that it high jacks the school culture for almost half the school year. In the end I truly feel this is a disservice to those we work for, the students.
First lets talk about those students. I am all for holding them accountable, to some degree. However that is not what the test is about. It is truly about holding the teacher accountable. In the end I work with so many great teachers that work very hard to prepare their students for the test. However, it is that path that in the end short changes the student. When the curriculum begins to be dominated by a students ability to preform well on a single test, then so many other aspects of education are ignored. There is little room for students to explore their own inductive abilities and learn personal inquiry, the corner stone of innovation, and the hunger to learn is squashed. I worry very much about producing a generation of individuals who have learned to to create, and seek out knowledge, on their own, but rather wait passively for someone to tell them what they need to know. This is a large by-product of what I see happening in our schools and I squarely blame the testing/reform culture.
In the early part of the last decade an interesting and surprising model was applied to education. That being the idea of exponential growth. I believe that it grew out of the idea that growth, in and of itself, was the only possible idea for society. We apply it to so many areas, chiefly our economics. The fact is that unlimited growth is not only unattainable, it is destructive. When this idea was applied to education, specifically in the unfunded “No Child Left Behind” law we set upon a path that was unrealistic. Many people argue and believe that the whole thing was constructed as a way to break teachers unions and pave the way for corporations to take over our education system. In fact I might just buy that because the whole premise of NCLB, and exponential growth, was that a school, no matter how well they performed on the standardized tests had to show growth every year. That, in plain language, is just not possible. There are so many factors that go into measuring a students abilities and potential, to expect a whole school culture to just continue moving upwards is unrealistic. Given the diversity of school populations today even more so.
So what do we do. Do we look outwardly to other countries and compare our models to the ones we think are working better. That is a thought, however we must remember that populations are different and what works for some might not work for others. No, in the end I believe we must become more student centric. We need to stop thinking that they are pawns in a game that shows we are outperforming Japan or Korea in Mathematics and get back to nurturing their developing, and above all, creative minds. So much of what made America great, and what makes all countries great is the populations ability to invent. This in the end is the same as create. When we are doing nothing more than worrying about test scores then students get pushed aside and they learn nothing other than what they need to know to perform. That, in the end, is the most damaging aspect of education reform.