Testing Doesn’t Teach

Through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, billions of dollars are offered to school systems nation-wide. However, in order to be eligible for the money, states cannot pass laws preventing teacher evaluations from including the test scores of their students.

The theory is, when student scores at the beginning of the year are compared to those at the end of the year, the improvement score should mirror the knowledge they gained from that teacher. On paper, the concept is logical and simple. Reality is a different story.

After you’ve swept aside the fact that experts have stated this final score is far more complicated to calculate than the theory suggests, or the academics who invented the theory question whether 50 percent of an individual teacher’s annual performance score is a practical percentage to rely on this outcome, look at what you’re left with. What remains is the undeniable truth that a student’s growth cannot be determined by numbers on a page, that a child does not learn by training for the moment when they sit at a desk behind a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a handful of mint-flavored candies wrapped in crinkly plastic.

When teachers’ jobs are placed on the line, they’re forced to center their efforts around what dictates whether or not they remain in their position. Now that test scores are the academic dictators, this means a lot of written notes, plenty of dragging lectures, and buckets of homework. The class reads and reviews, so students can move on to the next chapter, so they can take the next test.

This routine does not allow students to retain a year’s worth of information. Students know that it doesn’t, if you listen. If you listen to the comments made, the comments like “who actually remembers anything from last year?” that I heard from the girl who sits across from me in my fourth bell Spanish class.

At first, I laughed with the rest of my peers. At first, I brushed it off and continued with the rest of my day. Slowly, however, it began to bother me. I began to get frustrated, because the claims kept coming. The entire sophomore class was actually accepting the fact that we don’t learn anything, that nothing is retained. Not only are we accepting it, we’re buying into the idea that this is how things are supposed to run. We no longer expect to gain lasting information from math class, we no longer look to actually learn the language we’re studying. We take the classes to earn the credits, and we study the material to pass the test.

Whether it’s pleasant to admit or not, the new regulations are negatively affecting the students. The strategy of the teacher translates directly into the student’s mindset. If the teaching prepares for nothing but tests, then the students will prepare for nothing but tests. If the strategy doesn’t incorporate long-term understanding, then neither will the students. Classes have become an endless cycle of downloading information, and then wiping it clean for the next year.

What does not take place anymore is the discussion. Students read the words, but they’re committing things they don’t understand to memory. The formats and questions that expanded a curious or skilled student’s abilities disappear, because they’re too challenging for those students who aren’t interested in the lessons. When each student, regardless of the effort put into class, has to receive a good score, comprehension becomes secondary to temporary memorization.

The goal is no longer to help advanced students reach their full potential, or to aid students with a passion for learning expand. The goal has changed. We’d rather have a sea of students with the exact same scores than a brilliant artist who is average at math, or a genius with a computer that despises having to write a literary essay. Instead of encouraging specialization, we’re institutionalizing minds like wipable hard drives.


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