There are a plethora of problems, but the most prevalent problem right now, is reliance on standardized testing as a barometer of success for the public school system. The Georgia benchmark test is called CRCT, but every state has one. And every kid, from kindergarten to high school, dreads taking it.
Standardized testing has made the classroom more like boot camp and teachers have become drill sergeants. They are not teaching our kids to learn, they are teaching our kids to take tests, and there's not much they can do about it. The good teachers still try to make learning for learning's sake fun and exciting, but they are fighting a losing battle.
I actually think that the premise behind these tests is a sound one; making sure kids have the skills they need to advance to the next level of education. As a trouble shooting tool, I think it's fairly effective. But as the be all and end all of educational standards, it can't even begin to address all the variables that occur when one static unit of analysis is applied to a group of individuals.
That's what has been overlooked here.
Our children are being treated and educated as a collective.
But children are individuals; as widely varied as flakes of snow, or seashells on the beach. And like children, intelligence is a highly individual thing. It is not easily defined or quantified and it cannot be measured by the ability to fill in bubbles on a piece of test paper.
Also, these tests fail to take into account the value and importance of creativity, imagination and visionary thinking. In the American public school system, children who are unconventional learners, out of the box thinkers, and/or creatively inclined, are either ignored, or forced to fit into an ideal by which they can be labeled for later acclimation into a world of worker bees; unthinking, unquestioning drones who take direction well.
Other nations are making sure their children are schooled not only in reading, writing and 'rithmatic, but also receiving a comprehensive education in art, music, and language. Why? Because studies have shown that students who receive instruction in those subjects are stronger students as a whole. They receive higher test scores in all areas because these disciplines encourage free thought, inspire imagination, and celebrate the individuality that each person brings to the creative process.
They are being taught to think, not just learn.
But our kids? Nah. As long as they can fill in a bubble, we call it an education.
This has got to change.
I know you've heard it before, but my boys are both extremely intelligent; albeit in different ways. However, they share a distinct handicap when it comes to math. Neither cares for math, neither excels at math. They are competent when they apply themselves. When they don't, they lag behind. This doesn't seem to matter one bit to either one of them...they simply can't see the importance of math, when neither of them plans to be an actuary or an accountant.
I can't say I disagree. I struggled with math my whole life, and even had to repeat basic algebra in high school. I haven't used algebra once since then. When I've needed to perform more complicated feats of computation, I simply pulled out my handy dandy calculator. These days, people with math handicaps can rely on technology to make up for that deficit. Why...the iPhone even has a tip calculation app you can download. Even I can calculate 20% of a bill to within a few pennies, but now? I don't have to.
But I digress....
This year, in 5th and 8th grades, both of my boys were in a position where they had to pass the math and reading portion of the CRCT to go on to the next grade.
Pubescent One failed math every single quarter this year. But he passed the math portion of the CRCT.
Diminutive One got passing grades in math and had resource math as well. But he failed the math portion of the CRCT.
Pubescent One will be allowed to move on to 9th grade. Diminutive cannot move on until he can pass.
Does this make sense to anybody?
Let me explain further: Pubescent One and Diminutive One are probably about equal in terms of math ability. Both can perform at grade level if they apply themselves. They have to work a little harder than most kids; because they are both right brained individuals and they both suffer from ADD/ADHD. Typically, math is more difficult for kids with this disability. But they can do it.
Pubescent One tests well. For a variety of reasons, Diminutive One does not.
Pubescent One failed math because he did not turn in work. Some he did, but lost in the abyss of his locker. Some he did halfway. Some he blew off completely. But he knew the material, because both of my kids retain information very well. So he passed the test. And he gets to move on.
What does this say to my son, people??
I'll tell you...in the mind of a 14 year old boy, this just confirms his belief that homework is unnecessary bullshit. It's a belief I happen to share, but that's irrelevant. The point is, he is being taught that he can be lazy, undisciplined and unmotivated, and still get where he needs to go. This is not a lesson that is going to serve him well as an adult.
Diminutive One is an entirely different story. I won't go into all the reasons why he doesn't test well; that would take an entire treatise on "The Pathology and Psychology of Diminutive One" and we don't have time for that.
It all boils down to the fact that we, as his parents, had to find a way to help him pass that test. Because if he doesn't, he will not be allowed to advance, despite the fact that he is a fantastically intelligent and creative child, who is clearly gifted, clearly leaps and bounds ahead of his peers in the way he approaches learning and problem solving, but who struggles within the parameters of a conventional classroom setting.
What to do.
Well, he was eligible for summer school at no cost to us; three weeks, three hours a day. But the dynamics did not change, only the setting. He would still be one of 30 children in a classroom, being taught to as part of a crowd, a collective. His individual needs would not be met. It wasn't very hard for us to conclude that we needed another option.
We chose Sylvan.
People...I am paying Sylvan $2,000 dollars so my son can pass a test.
Now, in a variety of ways, Syvlan has been worth every penny. It has boosted his confidence by showing him that he can do math and he can learn. Failing that test did inestimable damage to his self-esteem, but Sylvan has taught him that he can learn anything he puts his mind to learning. Pubescent One, despite his intellectual gifts, has always thought of himself as the dumb kid. Slowly, he is realizing that he is not a dumb kid.
They haven't taught him a great deal of math. They have helped him become stronger in basic concepts and to not be afraid of math. They have addressed areas where he was weak (mostly newer, pre-algebraic concepts that were just introduced at the end of this school year). But the bulk of what he has learned is how to take the test.
And let me tell you...he was not alone. Sylvan's enrollment rates typically skyrocket after CRCT results are received each June.
Sylvan even offers a crash course that they call "CRCT bootcamp" during spring break week. The course is all about how to take the CRCT. It is not concepts and skills, it is tips and tricks.
But what about children whose families who don't have the resources to pay for that kind of individual attention? Well, I guess they just go to summer school and take their chances with the rest of the underprivileged kids and overburdened teachers.
Does this seem wrong to you? It SHOULD.
How many children are being left behind thanks to No Child Left Behind????
The priorities in our public school systems are dangerously skewed. We badly need education reform...nay...complete and total overhaul...if our children are going to remain viable and valued in a global community. We need to figure out how to produce leaders and visionaries.
We can start by eliminating standardized testing and beginning to focus on educating our children as independent thinkers. Bring back arts and enrichment and put as much emphasis on their value, as that of math and science.
And for God's sake, let's pull our heads out of our collective asses and realize that intelligence is a multi-faceted jewel that can outshine any and all material baubles if only it is honed and polished with care and attention.
Related Articles by yours truly:
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Art Is Free
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No Hablas Engles
A Question Of Freedom