Friday, June 03, 2005

When tests drive curriculum, no one masters anything --

May 31, 2005 by Teri Moblo, Detroit Free Press

...according to education researcher Dr. David Berliner of Arizona State University, "Learning subject matter in depth is no longer the goal of schools. Future generations are being trained to beat the system as opposed to learning." As the co-author of a study recently released by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, Berliner found that curriculum taught in many schools is being narrowed to only that which is found on the high-stakes tests...

Good teaching, which leads to in-depth learning, takes time and energy coupled with the ability to use a variety of methods in order to reach all students. In today's schools, adequate time to teach and learn is a highly prized commodity that is almost impossible to obtain.

High-stakes tests require that students learn a lot of things, but they do not require anything to be learned in depth. These tests do not measure whether or not students can apply or actually use what they have learned. They do not measure whether that which is learned is valuable, meaningful, or even relevant to the world they will have to enter upon leaving school. And they do not measure whether a child is prepared to be a productive member of today's highly competitive work force.

In fact, the very validity of these tests, upon which major decisions are made about students, their teachers and their schools have been called into question. Two weeks ago, it was reported that because Michigan students scored so poorly on the writing portion of the MEAP test all of the scores would be adjusted because the test was too hard. It doesn't matter whether or not the students who were tested actually mastered the art of writing as long as their scores are high enough to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

Additionally, the study released by the Great Lakes Center found that state-reported test results around the country are untrustworthy because they have been corrupted by such things as cheating, teaching to the test and score-reporting errors.

Consider the many companies that now offer students help preparing for high school exit and college entrance exams. If students are really mastering what they learn in school, why would such companies be in demand? If students had the time and opportunity to really understand the concepts taught in school and could meaningfully apply them, the only things necessary for success on such tests should be a good night's sleep and a No.2 pencil.

The goal of No Child Left Behind is laudable -- to guarantee a good education for every child that will ultimately result in maintaining our ability to successfully compete in a global economy. The reality of the law is that it guarantees the perpetuation of a system which encourages breadth over depth, supports quick results over time-consuming process, and rewards mere proficiency over true mastery.

When international test data comparisons are broken down, our students compare very favorably to those in other countries on the first few general questions on any topic. It is only when they get to the later questions, those that test deeper knowledge of a subject, that our students start to fall behind.

Therein lies the problem. A curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep makes our students jacks of all trades and, unfortunately, masters of none.

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