These were my original thoughts when I first considered writing on this topic several years ago. In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that the state ELA and MATH tests are having a negative effect on students who can’t get the majority of the questions correct. Furthermore, the aforementioned group represents well more than half NY students. It an attempt to raise standards, we are fostering low self-esteem and a defeatist attitude in too many children.
It can easily be argued that even the entire spectrum of intellectual ability constitutes only a small portion of human capability, and state tests only measure a fraction of that intellectual function. Brain research has shown that human intelligence is varied and complex, and that the human brain is constantly changing. Already nine distinct types of intelligence have been identified—abilities that lead to a variety of worthwhile accomplishments that enrich all our lives. Although state tests focus on a portion of linguistic and mathematical intelligence, they are being used as the report card for children and their schools. What are the dangers of this?
- Children who don’t do well on the tests grow up feeling inadequate
- Schools don’t get the scope to develop other forms of intelligence, in fact they fall into neglect as their importance is marginalized
- Children who do well on the tests may not develop other areas that need improvement
- Curriculum becomes skill oriented, boring, repetitive, drill-filled, and ultimately developmentally inappropriate
- Politicians and taxpayers evaluate the efficacy of school fund usage solely on this narrow slice on achievement
- The joy of, and desire for learning go under assault as scores take priority
- Teachers find their creativity and flexibility constrained
- Children learn a specific skill set for answering questions while failing to understand the subject matter fully
- Seemingly endless test preparation fails to develop the subtlety and nimbleness of mind required for real life problem solving
A fuller form assessment is necessary. Sure, linguistic and mathematical aptitudes are important indicators. But should interpersonal, spatial, kinesthetic, naturalist, existential, or other types of intelligence be ignored? Are these abilities not rewarded in life, not needed in the world?
At Progressive School we believe that academic achievement is like the luggage in the car’s trunk. To guarantee it gets to its destination, focus on the engine! The engine that drives achievement is motivation. Proper motivation can help one overcome all obstacles along the road. One of the greatest motivators is a feeling that one’s talents are needed. How can that feeling be developed if we are defining human beings in such narrow terms?
Am I exaggerating? Recently, someone asked people to twitter a one word opposite to “inspiration.” The second most frequent response was “school.” Is this what our children feel? Is this what we want them to experience?