Friday, May 8, 2009

Is This Gonna Be on the Test?

When I was a student in the 70s and 80s, inevitably someone would interrupt the teacher, who was telling a story or discussing a current event with "Is This Gonna be on the Test?". This always annoyed the teacher who usually shamed the student for asking such a question. I bet this is not a question students need to ask their teachers these days.

In my day there were standardized tests but it had not gotten to the level that it was driving the curriculum (or wagging the dog) yet. These days, there is no time spent on anything that will not be on the standardized test. The teachers follow a tightly scripted lesson plan that encompasses a year's worth of cramming for the standardized test at a sprint pace. There is no time in the school day for learning anything else. Any other learning is considered unworthy or wasted time.

"Is This Gonna Be on the Test" may have been an annoying question, but can we blame the students who asked it? Didn't schools create the kind of learning environment that values memorizing facts and getting high test scores over any other kind of learning? Perhaps that kid was wise to ask the question, for he was looking to optimize what was prized so highly by schools and what would eventually be a number that followed him for years to come: test scores and grade point averages. If a student had to focus on learning for curiosity's sake or learning to garner the highest score and grade point possible, isn't that kid planning and strategizing effectively within the paradigm he is given? I think so.

What is the goal of education anyway? To prepare for the work world? To be competitive with other nations in the world? To realize the potential each of us has as human beings? To read, write and do math equations? To think - critically, empathetically, independently? To get high test scores and good grades? It is a difficult question to answer, but if you looked at our public schools today you might have surmised that the goal is the last one: to get high test scores and good grades. This would be based on a number of clues:

- The importance placed by schools, parents and community on good scores and grades
- The fact that curriculum is driven by what students will be tested on
- The fact that a school can be closed or a teacher can get fired for low test scores regardless of other circumstances
- That parents look at test scores when deciding on a school for their child because there is very little other data given for this decision
- The amount of money that goes to testing and test prep corporations compared to the arts programs or teacher salaries
- The amount of time spent on studying what will be on the test, in class and as homework
- That a student can be held back to repeat a grade level if his grades and scores are not high enough
- That many colleges look almost exclusively at test scores (ACT, SAT) and grades as a basis to allow students access to more education
- That we use such statistics to compare ourselves to others around the world

It is fairly forgivable then to assume that high test scores and grades is the actual purpose of education. We should also forgive the kids who ask that annoying question as well.

If test scores and grades are not the purpose of education then we need to make it look otherwise to an outside observer in our every action and word. If the other goals were the real goals, then we need to stop relying on testing and grades as the basis for comparison, admission, retention, curriculum, studying, and spending. Schools would look very different indeed if our goals were in alignment with our deeds. How different the day in the life of a student would be!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog and I love the way you have "bulleted your proof". Yes, we have gotten lost along the way and need to get back to what is important for the sake of our youth and our society..