Sunday, August 21, 2011

Standardized Tests: Merely A Symptom of the Disease

Guest post by Teresa McCloskey

I recently discovered there is a surge of parents across the nation who are protesting the use of standardized testing in our schools and encouraging parents to opt out (here’s the group).  I have read articles comparing the testing to child abuse and articles from teachers who are promoting the “Save Our Schools” campaign while seeking testing reform.  I have also seen articles about the cheating related to these tests like this one and this one by school staff and administrators – understandable as there are federal dollars attached to the outcome.  Baltimore and Atlanta are surely not alone, but they happen to be districts which have been caught thus far.  One article even asked whether innovative children could start to blackmail teachers in relation to turning in higher or lower test scores.

It is apparent the issue of standardized testing has more questions than answers, but in reading these articles and seeing the debates on which method of measuring the success of children’s learning in the public system, I keep coming back to the same point of view – the tests are not the problem, the entire institutional system known as public education (or government controlled education) is broken and failing.  

To debate standardized testing is akin to debating on how to treat slaves better and how to determine which slaves are being the most productive on the plantation.  Why are more people not questioning why we have enslaved our children in this inhumane system which more closely resembles a prison or mental hospital than anything related to what their lives outside of school will look like?

Adults often chuckle and say with a bit of mischievous glee, “I don’t remember anything I learned in school!  I haven’t used algebra in over 20 years.” Or, “I didn’t care about history then, and I don’t care about it now.”  Shouldn’t our common experiences of having spent forced hours of boredom in classes which held no interest and have proven to be of no use to us in adulthood make us want to do better by our children?  School, in its current form, appears to primarily serve as little more than publicly funded child care storage.  While children may enter school with excitement and curiosity, they quickly learn it is far more important to sit still, be quiet, raise their hand to speak, and respect authority OR ELSE.  

The most formative years of a child’s life, the elementary years, are spent with some time devoted to learning new skills, more time devoted to busy work repeating these skills, and most of the time being herded and coerced into doing what does NOT come naturally to small, energetic people.  When a child has difficulty containing their natural enthusiasm for life and wants to exert their energy by running, jumping, talking, or playing, they are told this is wrong and to comply or risk being in trouble. When a child persists, they suffer consequences and, in a growing number of cases, they wind up being medicated or labeled as a multiple problem child… for nothing more than being a normal child with a high energy level.

The testing itself primarily focuses on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and math.  Sadly, the testing does nothing to gauge children like Peggy Sheehy with natural aptitudes to areas not covered in those areas.  There is no standardized way to test for a musical or artistic aptitude.  A child who has a natural rapport with animals or a green thumb may not test well in reading and math.  For some people, their inherent abilities and talents simply cannot be measured in a standardized way.  Yet while they may have individualized success outside of school, test advocates would label them as standardized failures.  How does this help our children?

I did not teach my children to roll over, sit up, crawl, or walk, yet they all did it of their own volition and in their own time.  Comparing them to others only caused needless worry and stress while solving nothing, but I also knew instinctively when they were in need of extra support.  As the mother of 4, it is my experience that kids are born curious.  Children have a desire to know about everything; thus, our babies shove any object they can get their hands on into their mouths and our 2-4 year olds go through that endless, “Why?” phase.  It is undeniable - kids WANT to learn, they WANT to know.  So why do we believe the only way children will ever learn anything is to hand them over to the government?  Why do we assume all children born within a 1 year period of each other must be at the same level of every other child born in the same time frame or risk being called a failure or slow learner?  Schools most consistently drive the natural curiosity out of kids to the point where it is accepted that learning is a horrible chore which they are forced to endure as evidenced in this video.  If we would simply feed their curiosity and allow each child to expand on their inherent strengths, free of measurement and judgment, I think proponents of the system would be shocked at the unlimited abilities our children possess.

Teresa McCloskey is a mom of 4 boys, 'host' mom to countless exchange students from around the world, wife to one amazing husband, daughter of the King, student, life learner who no longer believes in time outs, naughty spots, spankings, shaming, or the compulsory government indoctrination institution system. John Holt, Alfie Kohn, Naomi Aldort, and Adele Faber are some of my heroes.

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