Thursday, April 14, 2011

Testing - What is Tested is What is Valued

This morning, I sent my son off to school to take the MCA state tests for the first time. As a third grader, this is the first of many testing "opportunities" he will have. As we talked about it, I did my parental duty and made sure he understood the importance of them, ate a good breakfast, got plenty of sleep. He was really excited! To him, this was a chance to demonstrate his knowledge. Unfortunately, this is how he has learned to define what his knowledge is.

My concern is that even in third grade, my son understands that what is tested is what is valued. So the message to him is that basic knowledge of math and reading is what is important. While I will not argue the fact that they are important, I do feel like they have an overblown value in our schools. Here is what I mean. Look at some of the other things my son does that have equal (in my opinion) value if not greater value. Last night, he keyboarded an amazing three paragraph story. He took on a very challenging piano piece and demonstrated amazing resiliency and perseverance. He showed great leadership at soccer practice by helping the other kids learn a new skill. He looked up the answer to his daily problem on three different sites to ensure that the answer was accurate. In our recent trip to Arizona, he demonstrated his scientific reasoning on our hikes by identifying the animals we observed and organizing his nature journal.

Now there is no question that he needed math and reading skills to do these things, but I worry that he, and many other students, are reading the proverbial writing on the tests. They are seeing that these basic skills are the most important. Memorize these facts and you have reached the pinnacle of success in math. Forget that you don't understand what to do with that remainder or that you can't determine which source is most valid. Just read what is put in front of you and spew these multiplication facts and you'll be just fine.

I am honestly conflicted when I tell my son to do his best on these tests. I want to say, ignore these tests and build a model to represent how to solve this problem. Then write an explanation for how this model could be used in your entrepreneurial business. Then create a multimedia communication for your favorite hobby. Finally, demonstrate your ability to work through this complex problem. It will take a dozen tries but stick with it. Now that is a test that will show that what is tested is what is valued. Those are the skills I am looking for my son to gain in his school experience. Where is that state test?

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