Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jumping On the Bandwagon

I, unlike every other education-related activist I've met, have never been against standardized testing. I know that standardized tests do not measure one's entire brain-bank, but the results tend to correlate strongly with academic ability in other venues. Standardized tests offer a brief run-through of performance under pressure and material we've been acquainted with, making sure that every student is introduced to what the Department of Education, and ultimately society, deems as vital.

That said, I've changed my opinion. About two weeks ago, I visited Amherst College and sat in on two classes. What made the first impression on me was the way the professors lectured. Much of the lecture and discussion was spent going over background and contextual topics, as opposed to sticking to the title-topics (in this case Utopia/Dystopia and Lies & Secrets). I also sat in on some classes at Harvard last year, and wondered why an english professor was giving an entire historical account of one neighborhood in London where part of the class' novel was set. I come from a school that is heavy on Regents preparation, so this was a huge contrast. In the world of Regents and SATs, facts are listed, equations memorized, and answers are always either right or wrong.

The problem with this is that in the real world, things are rarely black and white. In fact, even as standardized tests get closer to the real world, things get less black and white. I am currently taking AP U.S. History, and in the first month of class, the same teacher who taught me Regents U.S. History dispelled everything I knew about the formation of this country, saying it was just Regents stuff. So now I am learning AP stuff and if I find a more advanced test, I may have to forget what I've learned. With each test, there is a different level of historical context discussed, leading me to believe in the 9th grade, that the American Revolution was the result of only three factors. In theory, it makes sense that the lower-grade the test, the less context given in class. But consider that when I am done with AP U.S., I will have a completely different understanding of the same history (including a different set of "facts") than my classmates who did not take AP U.S. We will have different "right" answers to the same questions. Blind eyes can see that at least one of us is being cheated.

In fact, we are both being cheated. We should not be trained to look for one right answer or the "answer choice of the best fit." Robbing us of a multidimensional perspective, that history of a London neighborhood, causes us to arrive at incomplete and often dead-wrong conclusions about the characters in that London neighborhood. By doing this, standardized tests are actually miseducating us. It is often said that standardized tests are an insufficient measure of academic ability. Insuffiency is the lesser issue at hand; they are actually forcing our minds onto a seriously flawed track, thus seriously flawing our minds. No, I don't think we need to be lounging under apple trees listening to a teacher muse on the thousands of ways to answer a question. I do think we should be taught to think critically and consider the context and background of any given topic. Emphasis on standardized testing first of all consumes necessary teaching time, and secondly and most importantly robs students of our ability to think openly and critically.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

thank you!