I went to a book club meeting today, and many of the other people there were teachers. One subject came up after lunch that often comes up in conversation with teachers: testing. Many of my relatives and closest friends are teachers, which is part of the reason I have chosen to home school my kids.
The schools in my area are testing way too much, and they keep adding more. They administer a test in English at the beginning of the year before the students are taught anything, then mid-year, and again at the end of the year. This is just one of the tests that they have to take. When my sister was in high school two years ago, they had to spend almost the entire second half of they year preparing for the ACT. They only studied two novels in that entire school year in her English class so that they could devote the rest of the year to test prep.
When kids are spending this kind of time on preparing for a test, when are they actually learning anything? If they are being taught well, they will be well prepared for a test, other than children who have learning disabilities that make taking tests more difficult.
Our society has become obsessed with testing as a measure of how much we know, but in many cases the tests do a poor job of measuring knowledge and instead hold us back from real learning experiences in an effort to learn what is on the test. While there is a place for learning how to test, it should be restricted to a few practice sessions to learn things such as if the test is one where it is better to guess or to leave an answer blank.
Who is going to learn more- a child in a classroom where in the process of learning history, they do real activities like churning butter, taking field trips to places where they can come as close as possible to experiencing the past, using hands on learning to make the past come alive, or a child sitting in a desk, taking practice tests over and over, while being taught strategies on how to best answer the test questions?
If more of the focus was on making real learning possible, and not on how that learning might be measured, we would see the results in improvements in our society. Instead, we are creating children whose natural curiosity and love for learning has been destroyed by showing them that the only thing we value is their ability to fill in answer bubbles.
I am very glad that in my state, home schooled kids are not forced to take standardized tests. My son is spending his time reading books about dinosaurs and space, and playing with his calculator and cash register, charging us for buying our own furniture. Instead of measuring his learning by a test, I can see it in how he is able to grasp more difficult concepts over time. He still has excitement for learning. He wants a microscope so he can see how mold grows. We will not be getting “the most powerful one in the world” as he requested, but he will still be able to learn what he finds fascinating. He may not find every moment enjoyable, such as when he has to practice his handwriting, but he still has his curiosity and love for finding out new information. We still have time for my younger son to paint and play music because we are not spending time on test taking.
While not every kid will be home schooled, and this is not the only reason I chose to home school, I wish that the people in charge of education standards would reconsider what they are doing before they ruin real learning for an entire generation. When I was in school, the amount of testing was increasing, but there was still room for fun and quirky teachers to really make a difference for kids. Now, it seems that in the push for standardization, educators are being made into robots teaching exactly what the standards tell them they have to, and losing the ability to be the people that most stand out in my memory. The teachers that make an impact are the ones that do their own thing and find a way to make learning fun.
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