Friday, July 22, 2011

ISTEP Testing Reports Make Me Yawn

HARBESON: Is this a test?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Every year when Indiana’s ISTEP testing scores are released, many people who support government schooling feel a rush of energy. They become excited and nervous, and expend that energy cheering for any data that can be defined as “success,” “improvement” or “progress.”

I usually feel a rush of energy too but it comes out in the form of a stretch and prolonged yawn. I can’t cheer because I don’t care about ISTEP test “success.” I care about education and learning.

I don’t cheer when success is defined by a government authorized and an approved standardized testing system. Pride at the state, district and individual school level over test scores only tells me one thing really: that those in the system are merely getting better and better at teaching to the test.

This measure of success is not something I would ever cheer about because I don’t cheer when I see young developing minds forced to suppress their natural curiosity to comply with arbitrary and subjective government mandates detailing exactly what they should be learning and when they should be learning it.

I don’t cheer when teachers feel they must teach to these specific standardized guidelines measured on the tests because I know it leaves very little, if any, time left to explore and learn about anything else.

A lot of energy is wasted on these misguided attempts to standardize a one size fits all education process while ignoring individual differences. The latest proof of this was in a recent story reporting on local results where a government school administrator pointed out how important it is to motivate kids to score higher and “learn what’s being taught.” He said it requires lots of energy to accomplish this.

But it’s not necessary to spend all that time and energy working to motivate kids to “learn what’s being taught.” All they need to do is stop thinking in terms of forced learning and flip the administrator’s comment. Instead of trying to motivate kids to “learn what is being taught,” turn this concept around and “teach them what they want to learn.”

Students are naturally self-motivated when they are already interested. Doesn’t it make much more sense for teachers and administrators to work with that natural energy rather than spending most of their days fighting against it?

If schools focused on individual student’s natural interests and real-life reasons to learn, there would be little need for elaborate standardized testing systems. People would realize that there are many ways to evaluate learning and the best ones focus on the student.

Imagine how different education would be and how much more everyone would learn if teachers and administrators actually collaborated with students to help them self-evaluate and assess for themselves whether they learned what they wanted to learn.

Since I don’t believe it actually accomplishes the goal, I’m not going to waste my energy cheering for standardized testing as a major method of forcing school accountability either. However, I do understand that this was bound to happen in a system based on compulsory funding, where individuals are not free to opt out.

As a result of government involvement in education, we have created institutions that are now almost completely focused on the continual testing and standardizing of students. This is producing young people whose main method of determining whether they should bother learning something or not is to robotically ask a single standardized question of their own: “Will this be on the test?”

And to me, this is nothing to cheer about.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is recuperating from injuries suffered during a recent prolonged yawn.

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