Brown-Wolf: Standardized schools test a parent’s patience (column)
Sharpen your #2 pencils. Stop. Never mind. Fill in the bubbles correctly. Stop. Never mind. Write your essay clearly. Stop. Never mind. Take the test via the computer. Stop. Never mind. The testing procedure has changed. Again.
‘Tis the season for standardized testing, although it’s easy to lose track of which one is being administered. CSAP? TCAP? CMAS? PARCC? NWEA? ACT or SAT? The amount of money spent to create and choose the best test to maintain accountability is mindboggling.
In the end, does testing do any good? Do tests make our kids smarter? Do they make our teachers better or our schools more productive? Do tests accurately measure a person’s intellect? What about a student’s physical or emotional well-being: can a test measure health and happiness? Shouldn’t values and integrity go hand-in-hand with lesson plans, and. if so, how does a test cover that? This column is full of questions — just like a test.
In most American public schools, standardized tests are administered in the spring, giving teachers the ability to teach to the test for most of the school year. But don’t blame the teachers — they get tested, too. In 2001, the Bush administration designed No Child Left Behind, launching the obsession with test success, and, although NCLB is no longer in place, testing remains an essential ingredient in public schools.
Should communities continue to support educational systems that measure success by a test score? I don’t think so. Very rarely will an exam measure creativity — or for that matter, passion, perseverance and responsibility.
As an instructor at Colorado Mountain College, I will say this: Some of my most successful students are not those who scored perfect SAT scores. They are students who’ve shown drive and determination. They’re students who’ve experienced life and have found ways to make sense of their world, creating their success through effort and true grit.
It is possible for schools to assess progress without a standardized testing system. Many charter schools, private schools and a few brave and progressive public schools use alternative measures, some of them outside the box and others radically simple. Games and collaborative activities can be used to develop critical thinking. A student who shows up every day for a clarinet lesson or basketball practice will learn something about dedication, effort and results. Some progressive schools develop student portfolios — measuring progress and knowledge by a body of work — rather than by an exam. A test is not the only measure of success. An environment where students are encouraged to express themselves creatively can result in healthier, less anxious people.
I recently read an article about a teacher in Kentucky who’d ordered a newfangled push-pedal contraption that her kindergartners used under their desks, keeping them physically engaged while working. Really? How about letting kindergartners run around a playground for twenty minutes? During standardized-test weeks, many principals and teachers remind parents to feed their students a healthy breakfast and to make sure they get plenty of sleep. Am I missing something, or isn’t it important for kids to eat healthy breakfasts and sleep well all the time? What message do we send by spending so much effort preparing for a test?
It’s time the public demand alternative measures to school testing. Students and parents can protest the test and rally at school board meetings. They can send letters to school superintendents and state/national legislators, demanding reform. If testing isn’t working for a child, parents might consider sending their kids to a school that uses alternative methods to measure meaningful success. It might make all the difference; then again, maybe we need to fill in a bubble to know for sure.
Carrie Brown-Wolf lives with her family in Silverthorne. She writes a twice-monthly column for the Summit Daily.
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