I had the good fortune to work for a year as the assistant principal in a school for gifted children in grades 3 to 5. It was good fortune because I had an enlightened principal who trusted her group of enthusiastic and skilled teachers to stretch her kids, to engage them and to teach them how to think.
The one blot on the landscape during the year was the round of high stakes standardized testing we endured. The powers-that-be had demonstrated a smidge of wisdom because at least they made these tests untimed.
And therein lay a problem for some of our kids.
It was one of the early days of the testing period and the time when the school buses would arrive to take the children home was rapidly approaching. One lad was hunched over his desk still struggling with the last test for the day. Very few bubbles had been filled in on his scantron sheet and he was chewing the end of his 2B pencil in frustration. The principal was getting anxious because the buses simply couldn’t be held up if he hadn’t finished the test, but at the same time, it was an untimed test. What to do?
Finally she asked the boy what the trouble was. She knew how bright he was, she knew he should be able to blitz this test. He shook his head and replied, “I just can’t decide which one to choose … it’s so hard having to choose only one”. She smiled, reminded of the the criticism of multiple choices for gifted kids – they can often find a reason why each of the four choices might be right.
“Just answer the questions the way any regular kid would” she advised him.
“Really?’ His face lit up and the test was completed without further hesitation.
What was going on here?
This boy was proving something we all know about these awful, simplistic, multiple choice, fill the bubble tests.
You can’t do them if you think too hard.
This was a child who thought deeply, creatively, saw all the angles, all the possibilities.
This kind of test was not for him.
This kind of test was for the quickly recalled facts, shallow thinking, crank-handle-turning routines and glib formulae that are remembered for the test and then forgotten.
It was not a test for thinkers.
And here’s the problem.
We are creating a generation of kids who are being educated to pass tests that are NOT DESIGNED FOR THINKERS.
Does that worry you as much as it worries me?