Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kindergartners Shouldn't be Tested

For that matter, I don't think anyone should be tested in school. I think tests are archaic ways to measure successful learning and at least as arbitrary as the grading system as a whole, but perhaps worse. They create unnecessary anxiety, pressure, and consequences. By no means should kindergartners ever have to take tests.

My four year old has had to do 20 minutes of standardized testing for the last two days. She'll be doing it for three days next week as well. And while these test times are mercifully short, they shouldn't be there at all.

What does one hope to measure by testing a four year old? The only thing that can be accurately measured by any test is how well a student takes a test--this is especially true for the very young and should illuminate the situation on all ages. Testing applies a pressure to perform in students that makes the completion of an education seem like an all-or-nothing search. It suggests that all students learn at the same rate, which they don't. Even the teachers applying these tests to the children think it's a waste of time. We may as well test them at archery or horse betting if we're looking for something to measure.

Testing cannot, by definition, measure creativity. And is creativity not a part of intelligence? Does it not lead to learning? Are we not to value creativity at all? I am in the fortunate position of college English professor where I never have to instruct students to fill in the bubble with a number two pencil all the way. I am in the fortunate position of getting a window into the creative minds of my students, to see how they solve problems, to see how they approach situations, and to learn a little about how their particular thinking developed. In the end, I am in the unfortunate position of having to then assign a measure to their level of accomplishment in my class. Fortunately, for me at least, this can be based on improvements, effort, number of tasks completed and many other factors that don't suggest right and wrong thinking.

That's what's so terrible about testing to me. Beyond being boring and encouraging students to not be engaged in class for years and years at a time, they suggest the existence of a single correct answer for situations. In many cases, when I was taking standardized tests, I would have to choose between answers that I didn't think answered a damn thing. Yes, it does say to choose the "best" answer, but why force me to choose between poor options, I always thought?

Why do we have such a lust for numbers and measures anyway? We are a society obsessed with statistics. The most boring meetings I go to involve someone standing up in front presenting statistic after statistic and linking them together to present a conclusion that they would have reached philosophically without the statistics in the first place. We use them to show everything. And we always--above all else--think that our goal is to show that every single person has the same potential for accomplishment and learning through the same time frame and methods as everyone else. This is, alas, not true. No one worth their salt actually believes it to be true. And yet still we strive for that pointless gold standard--to teach everyone the same thing through the same means at the same time and have them all progress at the same rate. People are not goddamn computers! The very idea is disproved by research all over the place and has been a useless idea since shortly after modern education began. And yet, still. Still.

We look back at 19th Century science and laugh at how people thought that lumps on a head or shade of skin can express intelligence and creativity. Some day--if humans are to evolve at all--we will be laughed at for our insistence on the trust we put in testing.

Students, at any age, are individuals. They should be measured as such. The completion of an education should be about its own intrinsic value and not the value of having a fancy piece of paper or the value of a high paying job. Should education be for everyone? Yes; but not the same education.

People, please, let's get our heads out of our asses. We're wasting the time of countless four year olds and their teachers and setting a low standard for what education can and should be for each and every person.

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