Please read and share the following post by Stefanie Fuhr. Stefanie Fuhr has been in the classroom for close to twenty years. She has a Master’s degree in Elementary Education and is a member of the National Writing Project. Stefanie’s concerns about public schools has led Stefanie to become an advocate for public education. She states, “Schools which once supported inquiry and learning have become solely data/number/measurement collectors.” Staying home to raise her three children, she hopes to return to teaching when testing is no longer the goal of schools.
Imagine my surprise at being told that the district my daughter was about to begin kindergarten in did not let “the test” influence their instruction. “The test” was not the issue these parents and other community activists saw as the problem in this rich suburb. The issues that need immediate work and activity, according to these activists, is defeating a school board – elected by big corporate money – that is pushing an illegal voucher program and destroying the union.
While I agree that these are serious issues, I was impressed to know that my daughter’s classroom instruction would not be test prep. But auuuughhhhh. . . there in lies the problem – I’m a teacher. I have a different understanding of test prep. While most of the public sees test prep as worksheets given only a few months before the big test, I see test prep as something being done daily, weekly, and monthly as schools are forced to collect data to meet the federal mandates required of them.
But after my child’s first few days of school, I realized, with dismay, that yes indeed the school’s drive to improve reading scores meant collecting data in measurable ways. My daughter is in kindergarten. She loves her teacher and her teacher obviously loves her and her job. I trust her teacher.
But you see, I started teaching before No Child Left Behind when teachers were allowed to be the actual experts when it came to teaching. Teachers read professional books, observed each other and were constantly reflecting on best practice. Now the federal government has mandated to the states, who have mandated to the districts, who have mandated to the schools what learning looks like. In my recent experience as a teacher, only over a year ago, all we did during collaboration and professional development was look at “objective” and measurable data; it is easy to see how data collection in the name of learning has taken over the learning environment. In kindergarten classes across this country kids are asked to recall words in isolation frequently, as well as take computerized tests to assess their letter recognition, fluency, and site words.
Learning involves hands on, authentic and meaningful experiences, but in this age of data driven insanity, others have decided that we teach what only can be measured. I have heard and seen of schools that graph how many site words a child knows, yet many educational experts understand that the best way to learn site words is through writing and reading in authentic and meaningful ways. When we start creating a competition as to how many words a child knows over another child, we are not creating a healthy learning environment. Recently, I asked a 6th grader about her first day of school, expecting to hear great things about getting to know her class through activities which build a classroom community, but instead, she told me she took three tests.
In the name of improving the data, schools are buying programs to teach kids how to read or write. We have many excellent educational experts who have written books and articles about how to best teach these subjects, and they all rely on the knowledge of the teacher. It is a sad day when programs are bought to teach writing where students will be scored on capital letters, letter formation and periods versus using writing as what it’s meant to be. . . a way to effectively communicate ideas.
I know that learning words, fluency and phonemic awareness are important, but all within the context of creating meaning. When done in isolation, this means nothing to a child’s literacy learning and creates learners who think that not knowing the word was or saw by itself makes them very poor readers.
I know that learning at a young age depends on play; Finland shows this to be true. People with lots of money send their children to schools where play is the essential learning tool. However, we’re in a data driven system created by someone outside of the educational field. Anthony Cody recently pointed this out in his recent August 29, 2012 “Living in Dialogue” blog where he shares a report from Alliance for Childhood.
Research is showing the critical importance of play for young children.
In the 1970s Germany embarked on a similar plan to push early learning–turning its kindergartens into centers for cognitive achievement. But a study compared 50 play-based classes with 50 early- learning centers and found that “by age ten the children who had played excelled over the others in a host of ways. They were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. They excelled in creativity and intelligence, oral expression, and ‘industry.’ As a result of this study German kindergartens returned to being play-based again.
This report also found that we are losing creativity as a result of this drive.
While schools focus on drilling literacy and math skills into young children, a few researchers are studying what is being lost. Creativity is one casualty. The Torrance creativity test, which has been given millions of times over five decades in over 50 languages, is a better predictor than IQ of which students will become successful innovators in a host of professions. When Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary analyzed almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults, Newsweek reported in 2010, “she found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. ‘It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,’ Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America–from kindergarten through sixth grade–for whom the decline is ‘most serious.’
This decline in creativity corresponds with warnings from Yong Zhao, who has pointed out how the US is in danger of killing the creative goose that laid our golden egg. As we are embracing testable standards as the route to success, educators in China are doing their best to escape the trap of high stakes tests. And as Yong Zhao points out, high scores on the international PISA test have not yielded economic growth, but actually correlate with diminished innovation and entrepreneurship.
The data that we’re collecting means nothing in regards to what a child is learning, but it is measurable and prepares children for one thing and one thing only – the test.
While I applaud those who see urgency in voting out a school board that has a corporate agenda to privatize public schools, there is another urgency that is not as visible to the public eye. While it will take extensive time to change this corporate agenda, my daughter has one year in kindergarten. She won’t get this year back. She has me as her advocate and I have let her teacher know that I am opting her out of any computerized test. The teacher knows that I trust her judgment of my child’s learning experience – my child’s teacher can tell me so much more than a computerized test can. And I can let my daughter know that recognizing 50 site words will not make her a life long learner/reader. . . but what about her classmates? We must opt out of these standardized tests so that test prep is not all our teachers are allowed to do; we must let them do what they do best – assess and evaluate student qualitative data and use this information to create real learning experiences.