Tuesday, March 25, 2008
To: Washington Post Editorial Board
Re: March 24th editorial “Dodging the Test”
I’m becoming more aware of the lack of understanding that seems to surround the idea of exactly what part education plays in the life of a child. Unfortunately, I have seen this reflected twice in the past month in the Post’s editorial pages. On March 6th, the Post wrote about Virginia’s attempts to free their students from the legislative tyranny that is the No Child Left Behind law (“Virginia Left Behind”). That editorial showed a lack of understanding of the disparity between wanting accountability in schools, and how true accountability can be achieved. Touting the NCLB law as a means of reliable accountability and standard setting within our nation’s schools reveals the gap in the public knowledge of education as a force in our student’s lives, and what educating a student actually means. Education as we now know it is such a young field. Advances are being made all the time. To cling to the belief that we can only measure a student’s knowledge (something we can only guess at anyway) with a draconian method such as a test is akin to trying to fit the multi-shaped pegs of our children into only one round hole. To further assert that these tests can accurately measure the effectiveness of a school in it’s entirety, which is exactly what NCLB in all it’s flawed glory is attempting to do, is worse by far.
March 24th’s editorial, entitled “Dodging the Test,” again illustrates the disconnect between what’s happening in school and the general public’s understanding of modern education. If the aim of the high school assessments is, in fact, to “make a high school diploma more than a piece of paper” then it is not only a positive move, but a necessary step, to allow it to be diversified past the pencil and paper test. What about students who have language based learning disabilities and therefore lose much of their concentration to simply decoding the test? Or those who have some form of attention disorder and find sitting through a test difficult to the point of taxing their mental capabilities? Or those who simply have difficulty with test taking because of anxiety? These are but a few of the reasons that a student might perform poorly on a traditional exam, but still have demonstrated, through such things as attendance and grades no less, that they have sufficient knowledge to be allowed to graduate. Are we to then tell them that they aren’t really ready to graduate because the testing scenario plays directly to their weaknesses that have nothing to do with their knowledge?
As teaching methods improve, so must our assessment methods. Those who have made educating our children their lives have long since recognized the need to meet the student halfway when it comes to learning styles and assessments. They have long since realized that finding a way to assess what a student knows is rather like groping in a dark room. Many teachers are moving away from standard tests toward performance-based assessments, practical assessments, or formative assessments because we now realize that traditional tests may allow a student to memorize the information just long enough to pass the test, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our students understand what they are repeating back to us out of their texts and off of their worksheets.
I am by no means advocating a complete abolishment of the traditional test or quiz as a summative tool in the arsenal of today’s teacher. I myself use them when I feel it is appropriate, and I understand their need in our education system. I am even an advocate of the high school assessment as standard practice. But there must be more understanding of how our students function and why alternative methods may be necessary. We must be flexible enough to accommodate the student, and informed enough to understand that this doesn’t require modifying the expectation. I implore both policy-makers and those who are on the outside of the system looking in to talk to a teacher, speak with a parent who is actively involved in their child’s school and in touch with their teachers, speak with a parent of a student with a learning disability (better yet: speak with the student!), or find someone to whom education is an issue close to their heart and come to understand the range of flavors our students today come in, how much better we understand them than ever before, and how much further we still have to go. The onus is on us as adults, educators, parents, and legislators to give the students the opportunity to show us what they have learned in an un-biased way that allows every student, regardless of pre-existing learning disability, anxiety, or other condition or difficulty to succeed where they have worked hard to do so.
Adevarul prin Cuvinte