Dear Dr. Fournier:
I read an article on CNN.com about a mother who hopes others will opt their children out of standardized testing. My question to you is: Why would they want to? To me, it seems like a cop out. How do you feel about standardized testing?
I am in complete agreement with the CNN mom. Standardized tests are an antiquated system that is stuck educating our children for an era that is long gone. The better they are able to pick the only answer that is deemed correct, the “smarter” they are thought to be. For a society that now says that its children must graduate from high school with college ready skills, one must wonder how many will start college only to flunk out when told to “critique, “analyze” or “develop and justify a hypothesis.” Oops… There is no one right answer.
Standardized testing lowers the bar by inhibiting out-of-the-box (or divergent) thinking, in favor of the more test friendly in-the-box (convergent) thinking. The system therefore places a premium on picking the correct answer over critical and creative thinking. Don’t get me wrong, basic skills and their application assessed via convergent thinking questions is important, but this is certainly notthe main (nor only) focus of academic education as our children progress in school. Properly, academic education should shift from convergent thinking in lower grades of elementary school to excellence in divergent thinking by completion of high school. Standardized testing inhibits this change, and keeps the teaching focus on in-the-box thinking, in spite of the grade. In addition to this, statistically, this method is failing in the worst way. It does not allow students to think in abstract ways. This is how we end up with the alarming statistics; such as announced this past March in EdWeek in which Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under the Obama administration warns that “82% of schools could be failing this year,” or the Department of Education research indicating “only 12% of high school graduates can write a compare and contrast essay comparing two editorials of differing viewpoints.”
Even the best-intentioned teacher who wants to offer the students teaching that results in learning with excellence for the 21st century, is not allowed to do so by virtue of standardized tests. In order to cover the static information that will be present on these tests, teachers must move from set topic to set topic at a pace that does not always result in complete learning on each student’s part, or leave any room for anything that may be relevant in today’s dynamic, fast-paced changing world because there is no way of anticipating this type of knowledge on a test that scores excellence on knowing the right answer applicable to the past. In short, teachers must teach following rigid standards capable of only developing minds in which the “smart” students must know the same knowledge and be able to use it the same way as the anyone else desiring to be deemed “bright.” Furthermore, teachers must be ever more conscious of how well the students will perform on these standardized tests as the resulting scores are also used to measure the teacher’s excellence to teach. By being mandated to remain in-the-box, students and teachers are robbed of a global, integrated view of their subject matter and a limited world view. Achieving the latter would require a transition to teaching convergent thinking as a platform for divergent thinking.
A student who sees relationships, who is able to take what is presented in-the-box and step out with that data and innovate, is what I have named a “grasshopper child/mind.” The system is not set up to deal with this child, who will be dragged back into-the-box to move along with the herd and learn to give the same babble in the “bubble” answer that requires producing the same exact thought expected of each member of the herd. Standardized testing infers this is excellence. Innovation, creativity or collaboration will only make a student one of the system’s dire failures and his/her teacher as a teacher in need of retraining. If a student refuses to adapt to the herd rules and thinking, he or she will be quickly demeaned by being placed in the category labeled “deficient,” or “developing (but not fast enough),” or simply worse “unmotivated.”
In his now classic 1981 book The Hurried Child, David Elkind concludes, “Indeed, machine-scored group tests, probably more than any other single influence, have heightened the factory quality of our schools, pushing them to turn out even more uniform products.”
WHAT TO DO
Our current system is set up to offer accolades to the students that get the most convergent questions correct. In fact, if a student is in the 95th percentile, that means they were able to find the right (a.k.a. herd) answer more than 95 percent of the children who took the test. This is a misleading statistic however, because it has only taken into account a student’s ability to use information that was learned in the same manner as generations past. Again, this is an important skill, but it is only half or less of the total education needed by our children to succeed in their future.
Too many parents who live for the accolades of their child’s top scores on standardized tests, will suffer the surprise of these sons and daughters coming back from college unable to an answer the most important divergent question they will ever have to answer in their lives: “What do I want to do with my life?”
This nation’s best chance of getting an educational system relevant to our children’s future is through parents who finally understand that the educational methods and goals of the past will only prepare their children to meet the demands of the long gone industrial era.
I applaud parents who stand up to the fear tactics of a system gone wild on teaching to the test, rather than educating our children to face the challenges of their era.
What does a parent need to do? Decide which kind of parent you will be.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
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2 McNeil ,Michele http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2011/03/duncan_82_of_schools_could_be.html?cmp=clp-edweek
Duncan: 82 Percent of Schools Could Be ‘Failing’ This Year
3 Feller, Ben 1 in 20 adults illiterate, new research shows Source: Department of Education National Assessment of Adult Literacy