19 March 2012

No Secret

It's no secret that math wasn't ever my best or favorite subject.

Well, if you didn't know, then it isn't any more.

My students all know this. How many times have I tried to quickly do even the most ridiculous problem at the front of the room (figuring out, for example, how many groups I need to divide students into fours) and done a horrible job of it. It's a bit of a running joke. I'm ok with it. Teacher quirks and failings are endearing if you make fun of them and recognize them and occasionally exaggerate them.

But here's the thing: even though math isn't my best subject, I still keep a good budget. I can still accurately measure fabric or furniture. I can make cookies that don't include way too much salt. I have the skills I need to do what is required of me. It works out. I learned and internalized what I needed to.

Here's another not secret: Standardized testing is a waste of money and time that doesn't accurately measure the success or failure of teachers and schools. What's more, standardized testing has actually negatively changed the way students learn and are prepared for the "real world".

Everyone knows this. Teachers know it. Students know it. Even, as far as I can tell, most politicians know it. Businessmen know it. We talk about it. We talk about not "teaching to the test" and how important it is to prepare the youth in our country for being creative in the fast moving Apple and Google world to which we belong, but will turn around in the same school year or month or week or hour and say: ". . .but they still have to pass the test."

The test. The big, scary, government mandated test that determines my future employment and the status of my school and absolutely nothing for my students. My students who, after so many years of hours spent each spring staring at a computer pushing buttons, have started to grow accustomed to the idea that becoming educated is not an active, engaging process, but a process of binge and purge. Information is shoved at you, and you vomit it back up, hoping the important chunks are present when you need them most.

Excuse the imagery. It grosses me out too, if it makes you feel any better.

What I don't understand is that it is no secret whatsoever that standardization and excellence do not exist in the same place. All standardized tests tell us is how many students who were failing last year are now passing, at least on that particular day. They don't tell us how many of those students are going to Harvard. They don't tell us how many of those students are genius in one area or another and are going to be hired by Pixar in the next couple of years.

There's no shame whatsoever in teaching students who struggle. That's what schools are made for. But, as a good friend of mine reminded me recently, every student struggles to get to the next level. Every student needs help and a mentor, not just the ones who are more obviously behind.

Thus, the problem of modern education. There are so many different kinds of students in my classroom that no matter how hard I try I won't be able to reach them all. Personality quirks get in the way. Teaching styles get in the way. Hours of the day or problems at home or how much a student had for lunch get in the way. There are hundreds of excuses and problems and I don't have the answers to all of them but I do know that one solution is simple: do away with standardized testing.

Want more proof? Read here.

1 comment:

Nanakat said...

I completely agree. I always did well on those tests, but it wasn't because I'd learned the subject.

It was because I'd learned how to take tests.

And I strongly believe that test-taking skills are the only thing standardized tests actually test.

How are test-taking skills going to help you in the real world? I have no idea.