What if testing is STOPPING our kids from learning?

Our schools continue to be run as if they were nineteenth century factories. We focus on standardization and its measurement. We process in batches. We talk about ‘value added’ assessment as if we viewed our children as raw material to be processed in some kind of assembly line. We focus on eliminating outputs that do not meet our predetermined standards of quality for the end product.

We do our best to standardize the inputs in the only way we know how – by original date of manufacture or birth date. We then develop processing techniques that we try hard to standardize across every factory/school . These are the curricula and teaching practices that are required in each school district in order for the process workers/ teachers, to get positive evaluations. We design cheaply administered tests to ensure that every end product/child meets the same criteria of successful processing/schooling. At the end of each processing year every module/child submits to the same test to determine the value added to the raw material. Faulty modules/children who do not meet the standard are reprocessed through either the repetition of the previous processing system or some form of modified processing, until they do meet the standard.

The core of the assembly line factory, the practice on which its products would stand or fall, was standardized measurement of quality. It is precisely this practice permeating current education systems, that will destroy education and ensure that our children fail in the 21st century.

Why? Because our children are not widgets and learning does not work like that.

Real, transformational learning takes place when we are fascinated by something, when we develop a passion for a subject. Our strength as a species comes from our diversity not our uniformity. Every child has the capacity to be fascinated by something different and our schools, with their standardized curricula and testing, do everything they can to stifle this diversity, to ensure that every kid learns exactly the same thing.

We learn best when we take risks, when we chance failure because even though it is really difficult material, it fascinates us enough to make the risks and the hard work worthwhile. I recall my horror when I was informed by a group of young women in the final year of their undergraduate degree that they were withdrawing from my subject because they felt they would not get an A and that would have a negative effect on their Grade Point Average. Our testing regime, our relentless focus on end of manufacture measurement, is stopping our kids from learning.

Seth Godin, in a recent TED talk (http://getideas.org/resource/seth-godin-stop-stealing-dreams/?v=1352307111) uses a powerful analogy.  He says that we are focused on getting our kids to collect dots and we measure success by how many dots they have accumulated by the end of the school year. Instead, we should be teaching them to connect the dots, and this we are failing to do.

There is only one thing we need to focus on in education – thinking. Google has made the belief that there is some set of facts that is somehow mandatory learning for every student an archaic notion. You cannot think without something to think about. The content of any curriculum should be determined and judged by one fundamental criterion – how does it advance the students’ ability to think?

We need more brave schools, prepared to turn their backs on the factory model and actually encourage kids to try to do things that are too hard. We need more people in positions of influence to say, “Our kids want to come to school every day. They are intrigued by the things we do every day. They create new ideas, they innovate, they take risks, they are excited about the things they have already learned and they want more. And I don’t care if they can’t pass your standardized test. We are doing something much more important. We are educating.”


Filed under Testing, Thinking

9 responses to “What if testing is STOPPING our kids from learning?

  1. Bonnie Griffith

    I could not agree with you more. I believe some of the manufacturing approach to teaching has emerged as more MBA graduates have entered the field of education, and they have brought their business models with them. They don’t seem to appreciate the art involved in reaching a child’s mind.

  2. Sue Keeble

    Agreed! There is way too much ‘teaching to the test’ and ticking boxes. Surely nurturing a student’s love of learning and encouraging their inherent curiosity in the world (rather than stifling it by only teaching what they need to know to meet a departmental standard or to pass a test) goes a long way towards helping produce thinking, engaged, creative students/people ?!

  3. Pingback: Wat gaat er mis met onze kleuterwetenschappers op school? En wat doen we eraan? « Blogcollectief Onderzoek Onderwijs

  4. The tricky part is how to reform the long out-dated educational conventions that are already in place. Think of how tricky it is to revise a personal habit that has become second nature – that’s how tricky it is to revise a bureaucracy once it gets established. Educational reform involves multiple bureaucrats who are fully invested in continuing things the way they are. Bureaucracy exists to perpetuate itself, as it’s own purpose. It also appears that teaching kids to think for themselves is too threatening for powers that be to imagine. It appears that misdirection and “keep ’em busy” with red herrings is not just an advertising strategy.

    The practical answer is to infiltrate private schools to educate some lucky minds. (Of course, these lucky few will spend their lives struggling against prevailing stupidity as we have done.)

    As long as we’re talking about what education lacks, let’s imagine a bit farther. If kids need fodder to think with, have kids study law. Give kids the job of defending public freedom and activism, by studying negotiation and communication skills. At least then citizens would come personally equipped by their education to defend themselves against mob rule throughout their increasingly complex lives.

  5. Kerry

    Sounds like the other end of the scale from the “forest schools” – does anyone have experience of these?

  6. This is great and needs to be read by people here in the US as well. It saddens me to watch our children growing up with the creative desire of learning, questioning, and thinking sucked out of them. Soon they just want to be fed facts that they can spout back, but it means nothing.

  7. Pingback: What if testing is STOPPING our kids from learning? (article) | Thinking Behavior

  8. Patti

    According to my college professor friends, kids are graduating from high school/passing the state test but are not prepared for college. They can’t think nor write. They also lack problem solving skills. I find this scary and unacceptable. This needs to change.

  9. Charles Greene

    What are teachers to do, If we don’t tick of the little boxes, or teach to the test we are labled and quickly find ourselves no longer teaching. There was a movement once to tell students to put down the pencils, or have the studnets refuse to take the state tests. If enough students did this there could be no recourse.

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