Perhaps the biggest shame being perpetrated in our national K-12 public education system is “teaching to the test.”
The most significant reason for its existence is tied to how education is funded. Higher rates of student success equals more dollars for some school districts. And more students passing exams in the classroom, in too many instances, supposedly means a better school. Both “truths” are riddled with flaws.
Teachers complain about “teaching to the test.” Parents complain about it. Students trying to learn don’t like it. But it’s an ever-present fact in the business of public education.
My spouse of nearly three decades is a master teacher who, though “retired” for 20 years, is still teaching teachers. But, instead of the classroom, she teaches internationally on the I-Net for two universities. Let’s just say, her public education credentials are in good shape.
We’ve had many a discussion at our house about the product our K-12 schools are turning out. In the beginning, I faced some opposition for my feelings of systemic educational failure. In the beginning.
But recently, as my teacher-spouse began to get more involved in her ‘round-the-world instruction, she also started paying more attention to national affairs. Partly because of interactions with teachers in other countries talking about how politics affected their educational experiences and partly because of her own curiosity.
I’ve watched her education views evolve as she began her graduate level teaching some 18 years ago. Initially, she brought only her own long-time experiences. Soon, however, hundreds and hundreds of interactions with teacher-students, and their experiences internationally, began to affect her outlook. There aren’t a lot of similarities between Meridian, Idaho, and Ho Chi Minh City, Antwerp or other worldly locations on her student rosters.
Barb works with hundreds of teachers a year. She gets a tremendous amount of feedback from her “students” who work in all sorts of environments. One of the continuing threads is teacher disgust with “teaching to the test.”
Instead of using the skills of trained professionals to excite, motivate and engage kids, much of the classroom time is dedicated to mandatory test passage. What a waste.
For anyone thinking these complaints are ill-founded, here’s just one sentiment - from a fifth grade teacher in Oklahoma - Barb received.
“We also overlook the factors teachers can’t control. I have two students who are homeless. I have one who’s been in and out of a mental institution all year long. Another who arrived from Mexico the day of the test who did not speak English but still was required to take the state reading and math exams. Two others had a parent die this year - one from a gunshot that happened in her house and the other while the parent was committing a robbery. I had a fantastic young man who went home to find his mother passed out with a needle hanging from her arm and had to call the police. Sometimes, passing a test is not the priority for all students.”
If you think that’s extreme, you should read more of the other feedback Barb gets on a daily basis.
“Teaching to the test” is a waste of not only time but of the classroom environs to actually to create a better, smarter, more well-rounded citizen. It also diverts teachers motivated to teach from accomplishing what should be done and dilutes use of their talents school systems desperately need.
Our existing national education requirements are rife with other examples of how the “rules” actually work against the desired learning experience. Teachers, hamstrung by them, have precious little time to actually teach. As a result, many quit to pursue other careers.
What results is the system loses talented, motivated, eager people who chose the difficult path of teaching because they thought they could make a difference.
Our national public education efforts need to be overhauled in so many ways. For years, we’ve thrown more and more dollars into it, expecting to “buy” better results. Politicians and bureaucrats combined their lack of classroom experience to create educational conditions that, too often, are doomed to fail. “Teaching to the test” is one con game they created.
That Oklahoma fifth grade teachers is one voice that needs to be listened to. Classroom teachers like that need to be given the opportunity to help create a system that might - just might - succeed.