Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Testing, testing, A, B, FAIL

I posted this yesterday, but for some reason it disappeared and I am reposting it today.

I realize that I am preaching to the choir with this post, since almost everyone who looks at this blog is a Montessorian. On the outside chance that a non-Montessorian will see this post, let me write a disclaimer: You might be offended by the content of this post. And whether you are offended, are a Montessorian or not, I'd love to have your comments on this subject.

I was following a conversation of public school teachers the other day, and by public I mean traditional public school. I clarify because Sean attended a public school for a few years, but it was a public Montessori school. There is a difference.

So I was following this conversation, and a teacher was saying that this year has gotten off to a rough start. She feels overwhelmed with everything she is required to do, and does not feel supported. On top of this, when she announced that they would be having a test, her students asked if there would be a re-take.

The reaction of the others in this conversation was indignant. "Re-take? Why with that logic I could have been a straight A student," was one response.

Now let me make myself very clear. I feel for this teacher in so many ways. I am absolutely certain that she is overwhelmed, that the demands on her are probably unrealistic, and that she lacks the support she needs. Whether that support is monetary or emotional, or just plain administrative support, there is not enough of it in the public system.

However, when I saw her frustration with the re-take question, and then the responses by others in this conversation, (I was an observer, not included in this conversation) I had to wonder if they realized how mired they are in a system that is turning out people who don't really know much.

I'm one of them.

So it got me thinking about the way the public schools operate. They get a mandate of what the kids in any given grade need to know, and that is what they are supposed to teach, and they have to get it all done in 10 months. And every kid is supposed to know all of it in 10 months. Well, not really. They just need to know it long enough to take a test and make their grade.

And if they don't know it? F. Fail. Failure. No A for you little missy. And the consensus seems to be that students don't deserve a re-take.

But if we truly want them to learn the things we are teaching, shouldn't we allow them to work with the information for as long as they need in order to learn it? I don't mean goof off and not pay attention, I mean WORK with the information.

And what if we gave them several "tests" that looked more like ways to explore the information they were just given? What if they were allowed to really dive into it and we took THESE "tests" as the real measure of whether they are learning it?

And for those who aren't learning it, what if we had the kids who were excited about the subject partner and work with those kids to come up with more ways to explore the information so that they also were learning it?

Shouldn't we want them to learn what they are being taught, and therefore, all of them master the concepts and understand it?

It seems the whole goal of school is to give the information so the students can take a test.
What if they were given the time and opportunity to actually do well? But it does seem as if the schools are set up to produce workers who follow rules, guidelines and systems.

I was talking to a friend of mine about a similar subject and we agreed that we were taught to a test, and also we have encountered so many people who have what seem like good jobs, who are clueless about how to think things through and come to a sensible conclusion, or take information and extrapolate to use it in different ways.

Teachers are stressed out. They don't have the time they need to do the job they are skilled at doing. That stress is transferred to the students. And just as the teachers have lives when they walk out the door of the school, so do these students.

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