It May be a Surprise to Some
BUT SCHOOLS ARE FOR LEARNING
May 11, 2008
American exceptionalism can be, in part, tied directly to the genius of American education. And the American Constitution, without doubt one of the finest documents in the world, provided the freedom for the institutions of education to emerge. It is the American Constitution which protects and encourages the development of the individual so that each person may become all which she or he is capable of being. The system of schooling in America from pre-K to the University became one of the finest systems of edcation in the world. And hence, American Exceptionalism is deeply rooted in our system of education. Etched in our rich American history of great scientific, social, and ideological developments are our American schools as centers of rich leaning and prudent teaching. Truly, exceptionalism at its best.
Recently, many schools have developed an approach and attitude in educational practices that place increased emphasis on testing. In fact, American elementary and secondary schools administer more tests each year than do schools in any other country of the world. One argument posited by some as the rationale for emphasizing such testing is that more testing will require more teaching and thus greater learning. In fact, some schools teach for the tests as their curricular guide. This is a shameful educational practice. Further, there are those who question teacher professional judgment and other criteria as not always strategically reliable. We question that argument. It is true many tests, which are standardized and yield comparable data, have a degree of sophisticated precision. It is disturbing, however, that there are those who see that these tests possess an undeserved aura. To some, they are the primary source for judgments concerning the quality of education and even the learning growth of the student. We question the reliability of that position.
We believe that the function of schooling is NOT primarily to enable students to perform well on certain standardized tests. But rather, the purpose of schooling is to provide a level of instruction that enables students to develop academic skills and conceptual understandings that go well beyond that which any test is designed to measure. More importantly, schools should develop an appetite for learning and stress student's self-motivation for success. They should strive to develop attitudes and patterns that will provide young people with a zest for continuous intellectual growth, appreciation for excellence, self-discipline, and an appreciation of the work ethic. And School Boards, as key policy decisions makers, should set a tone for total school excellence. We suggest that every decision made by a school board should first be examined in light of the key question: "What impact will this decision have on the 'educational' well being of the students?" To note: "increased spending" does NOT necessarily translate into "educational excellence." School Boards would do well if they tapped into meaningful community consultative processes.
There is the assumption that the best way to identify schools that are successful is to examine their test scores. We suggest that raising test scores on such narrow measures of educational achievement is no significant educational victory at all. Tests are contrived tasks that are intended to sample behavior that makes it possible to determine what a student knows and can do. Test scores are believed to be proxies for the quality of education that students have received. We suggest, however, that what test scores do best is to indicate "at that moment" an obtained achievement level and predict results on future test scores; that is pretty much it. Think about it, how often does one encounter such tests in the real world of life? Thus, what we have done is to have designed a system that employs rare events (such as tests and more tests) to make significant judgments about the richness and quality of education. We suggest that in addition to paper and pencil test results, schools ought to examine the comprehensive learning and attitudinal growth of their students and achievements of their graduates in the real world. There are examples of students achieving well on tests but have done less well in their personal and work world. And then too, there are those who have not performed so well on tests but have demonstrated a high degree of success in the world of adulthood and work. An attitude of motivation, drive, self discipline, and pride has played a key role toward their success. Some of the most successful people of modern society are so as a result of perseverance and tenacity. Indeed, one's attitude determines one's altitude.
We believe that far more creative comprehensive measures of attention need to be developed and used to determine the quality of education. To do so, one must know well the individual learner and his or her background readiness, the culture of the school, and the nature of the environment. A good teacher unlocks the learning potential and learning style of each individual learner in a coordinated and timely manner. And a good teacher "connects" with the individual. THAT is the practice of a creative teacher. It is complex but clearly achievable. It is a comprehensive human process that calls for... in addition to pencil and paper instrumentation... thoughtful, dedicated, teacher judgment, and professional decision making. For good teaching is indeed an ART scientifically applying the best practices of learning development. And paper and pencil tests are only the tip of the iceberg to the creative world of teaching and the exciting world of learning. Truly, the present has much to learn from our Exceptional past. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.