Monday, January 24, 2011

Is it the teacher or the test?

     I just listened to an interesting podcast from NPR which discussed the idea that American high schools are not preparing their students well enough for military service. Among some of the information stated is that students do not have the critical thinking and problem solving skills to score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), specifically the math and science portions. Other problems discussed included the lack of physical fitness in many American teens. These problems, along with criminal records, physical handicaps, and lack of a high school diploma keep an astounding 75%+ of Americans ineligible for military service. My question about all of this information is; is it the high schools that are failing or is it the test that is failing?
    I joined the military 10 years ago, as did two of my friends who graduated from the same high school. We didn't have any problem at all scoring well on the ASVAB. (Potential recruits need only a 31 to be eligible for basic military service, but need to score much higher to be eligible for other opportunities in the military. The ASVAB contains 99 questions.) To my knowledge, the aforementioned problem did not exist to the extent that it does now. Another thing that did not exist then: high-stakes standardized tests.
     Sure, we took standardized tests, ACT, SAT, Ohio 9th grade proficiency test. Never were we told that we could not graduate (with the exception of the 9th grade proficiency test) if we failed. Politicians were not discussing linking our teachers' pay to the scores we got. The stakes were low for us as students, and without that stress, we performed. Teachers did not have to spend their time making sure to cover what was going to be on a huge test at the end of the year that they did not create. Standardized tests fail miserably at measuring things like learning, problem solving, and critical thinking. These are all things that our teachers cared about teaching us. They have real-world applications. As a consequence, we were able to enter the military, go to college, get jobs, and be successful individuals. Kids now only learn how to succeed on multiple-choice, short answer, and extended response tests.
     To make matters worse, because of the increased emphasis on standardized test scores, many schools have been forced to cut the classes that teach exactly those 21st Century skills. Classes such as art, music, and other elective courses have given way to "test prep" courses. What does it say about our emphasis on these tests that we have entire courses devoted to "test prep?" In addition, some schools are cutting gym, which is no doubt a contributing factor to the obesity problem stated in the article. I just can't help but think that we were doing pretty well before standardized tests became so "vital." After ten years of emphasis on these scores, I feel like we have left more children behind than we did before "No Child Left Behind." Are the schools failing these students, or are the tests?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with a lot of the information in your blog. I do not have children so maybe my input is a little off. However, not having children I often look at parents to see things that I view as good and poor parenting skills so that I can try and learn before I have my own. I think that parents are the largest impact on children's ability to test well. My dad is probably on the high-average end of the IQ scale and my mother has a degree of MRDD and she does not comprehend or read past the level of a 4th grader. It seems that every generation makes a comment that what their children are learning is far beyond what they had ever learned. While this may be true, my father would always read the science or math chapter that I was on and do his best to critically think with me so we could come up with an answer. Since 8th grade I was in advanced classes. My entire high school career I had straight A's and B's, except for advanced placement Calculus and I very happily got a "C". Studying was a priority when we came home. We also had to do a couple hours of chores every night and were in bed by 9pm. We did not have internet (which I believe can be very helpful for studying) and only one gaming system. I had 4 siblings and when we wanted to play we were told to go outside and play which forced us to use our imaginations and helped our social skills. Now it seems that parents often rely on TV and gaming systems to keep their children entertained. I often see young kids with nintendo DS when they leave the house and they get upset when told to go outside to play. I think that the imagingation process really helps with critical thinking!!!! Now to part II which I promise is much shorter. I do think that tests are failing students too. I was joking around with some friends that when I have children I may not want their first name to be too long since their last name will 10 letters long and that is a lot to bubble in on a scantron. Electronic tests and many school tests are strictly multiple choice and the joke is "If in doubt answer 'C'." Often times you are not allowed to write on booklets and you have to turn them back in so you don't get to see notes you wrote nor do you have to "show your work." When you take tests like the ACT you don't get to review the questions and see how you derived your answer. I think that being able to do that is critical to help a student learn how to answer similar future questions. I do not that teachers income should be affected by student scores/grades since parenting and tests factor into children's grades as well.