Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Testing, 1, 2, 3.....Testing

When our two were in grade school, I was disquieted and dismayed at how when they returned to classes after summer vacation, they and their classmates seemed to concentrate on reviewing and (re) learning the previous school year’s material. 

Invariably, the first teacher-parent conference of each school year was primarily devoted to discussing how far along each child was in preparing for Connecticut Mastery Tests, taken every other year for the ”even” grades,  something or other taken during the odd ones.  Shortly before Halloween the tests were administered (at least in my memory) and then new, actual learning began at least until the mid-year holidays.

My largest concern was because of the scale of testing and measurement, statewide, the results, such as they were, weren’t available to teachers and school districts until mid to late spring term just in time to NOT correct any systemic weaknesses in a school, a class or in the teaching or testing methodology but rather, to tag each child for the next school year when they became a different teacher’s challenge as the teach to the test cycle not only continued but often seemed to accelerate. 

I wasn’t alone as a parent, and as I discovered in discussions with teachers, in thinking we were chasing our tails on a carousel that had taken on a life of its own. I was pleased to read over the weekend that the Parent-in-Chief seems to think maybe we have more in-school testing of our children than is helpful or, dare I say, useful.

I fell over a quote one night recently watching the PBS News Hour, because I’m tired of clothing models with perfectly coiffed hair and veneered teeth reading me elsewhere, that caught me up short until I had digested it and I’ve decided I completely and absolutely agree with it, and I hope you will, too. Here it is: “I think the system looks at each child and says, how intelligent are you, and then tests, whereas the question we really...ought to be asking is, how are you intelligent; and then figure out a way to build on the strengths a kid has..." 

I’m thinking about a different quote, one often mistakenly attributed to Einstein, who was himself not the keenest of students, who worried about how our society measures achievement and performance in school in a manner that never, ever considers anything to do with learning. 

Had he lived, I think Al might have turned on and tuned in to carefully consider this quietly radical and frighteningly logical proposal on a way ahead for all of us as the 21st Century continues and hopes we are coming along.

-bill kenny    

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