Yet another teacher has felt that the changing educational system of "teaching to the test" is failing our children's education, curriculum, and creativity in the classroom. In a recent article in The Washington Post, Susan Sluyter, a 20-year veteran teacher in the Cambridge, MA public schools system, heartbrokenly declared in a resignation letter to the Post, "I have not left my job, I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me." She goes on to say, "When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy, and love of learning characterized the early childhood classroom. I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition, and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms."
Teaching to the Test
As a mother of three, whose children are taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing, the MCAS, as we speak (this week and last), I get it. I feel Sluyter's angst. I am frankly disappointed in the educational system just "teaching to the test." When my oldest set foot into middle school, I was both excited and disappointed. Yes, she would be taking some interesting, innovative electives like Architecture and 3D Design, however, in the core subjects, her curriculum would simply focus on what's on the MCAS.
At the parent orientation night, I quickly realized that every single teacher's presentation and syllabus for the year referenced what the middle schoolers would learn to make sure they were more than well prepared to take the MCAS in March. Her entire year of study was mapped out by the math, science, and English questions (and essays) they'd face to get a successful score, and relatedly successful score for our school and district.
Is There a Place for Creativity in Schools?
The one creative project assigned in her English class is producing a magazine. Each student would make their own publication—from the title and editorial content (they wrote), to the design and production. Of course, I was excited, as this is precisely what I do professionally. However, at her recent teacher conference, I was told with a sigh that the magazine project had to be dropped for more MCAS preparation. As of recently, they even held MCAS teacher-led study groups after school.
[Test prep and tutoring courses can help students prepare for these tough tests.]
Proponents of Testing
A high school ELA teacher in Michigan who asked not to be named doesn't necessarily think teaching to the test is such a bad thing, "Of course, it is not always fun, but as a high school ELA teacher for more than 15 years, we finally have more concrete standards as to what to teach. I also do so for the AP English test which can mean college credit. Having a goal is essential. But you certainly cannot judge a student from a test that measures only a part of his or her growth. We are also being pulled away from focusing on MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) and more towards The Common Core like all states."
Proponents of standardized tests and "teaching to the test" will argue that whether you take the MCAS in MA or the MEAP in MI (which will most likely become a Common Core assessment test—the same standardized test taken by all states down the line), these tests are not necessarily to see how states are pitted against each other, but to scale how American students measure up internationally overall, especially in math and science, and how competitive they are in today's job market.
[If your child is struggling with standardized tests, a tutor can help.]
How Americans Compare
As reported by NPR, The U.S. is currently outperformed by 29 nations in math, and 26 in science. Other countries are clearly leading the way in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and careers—and are also making sure that their budding workforce is learning the 21st century job skills needed to compete in the global marketplace.
In fact, a recent study conducted the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) found that nearly two thirds of employers in the state couldn't find young potential employees with the skills needed to fill their jobs. The study has encouraged both schools and businesses to collaborate and work together to make sure students learn what is valuable for a successful career today.
So, maybe there should be an overemphasis on school assessment tests like the MCAS.
Like most parents, I cannot pretend to know what the answer is. Nor can most of the teachers who are caught up in "teaching to the test.” But at least the questions are being raised as to whether school assessment testing can be balanced with enthusiastic teachers adding their own knowledge, creativity, love of the profession, and spin to their classroom methods.