Questioning the profusion of testing
Author and professional speaker on technology Edward Tenner once said, “It would be a shame if brilliant technology were to end up threatening the kind of intellect that produced it.”
Charlotte County school district officials are concerned that current education practices are doing just that.
They say that in order to prepare students for their annual assessments, the tests are being taught instead of the students “just learning.”
“When we give a student a book, the first thing they want to know is what the questions are going to be so they can scan through and find the answers,” said Superintendent Doug Whittaker. “Then we ask them, ‘What does the reading mean to you?’ And they say, ‘I don’t know but I got the questions right.’”
Florida has some of the most rigorous testing in the country, but in most of the academic categories considered in an annual report by Education Week, Florida students are average or behind when it comes to overall performance.
Florida students are 30th in the country in eighth-grade reading; in graduation rates, they’re 44th.
Whittaker says that’s because educators are trying to “teach them too much.”
Beginning in 1910, federal mandates began adding more and more requirements to the standard curriculum, which originally consisted of a very basic knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Over the last century, content has continued to increase but the amount of class time a student spends during the school year has remained the same.
In addition, rigorous testing has impeded comprehension, he said.
“We have taken testing too far,” Whittaker said. “We poke around at wanting to be like Denmark, Finland, Korea and Singapore, and in each of those four countries there is one high-stakes standardized test that is given in high school.”
Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott laid out the plan to put in effect a new set of national standards that will narrow the current curriculum and encourage in-depth mastery of subjects.
It is scheduled to be completely integrated by the 2014-15 school year.
“Part of that work includes a transition to a new national common core set of academic standards for English, language arts and math that are benchmarked to international standards and aligned with college entrance and employer expectations,” Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said in a statement.
Whittaker believes that won’t be enough to keep up with higher-performing nations like Finland and Singapore. In addition, Whittaker believes the U.S. should change the length of the school year and reduce testing.
“We need to start gradually lengthening the school year,” he said. “We used to have the longest school year in the world. Now it is one of the shortest.”
As the new standards are implemented, the FCAT test for math and English will be eliminated.
“We should not test students for the sake of testing. Just like in business, measurement should be focused on results — and the new Common Core Standards we are implementing will do just that,” Scott said in a statement. “It is imperative that we give teachers time to transition to these Common Core Standards, and to achieve that we will not make any new testing requirements that do not support these standards.”