Sunday, October 2, 2011

More Nonsense!

I read this lead story in our local St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press:

For those of you who remember Popeye cartoons, I experienced one of those "I can't stands it no more" experiences and penned this piece...OK, OK....typed this terse and pithy retort.

What's your two cents on it? Thanks!
Dear PP:

I read your interesting piece on student test scores today.

As a teacher celebrating his golden anniversary of teaching this year, I have a comment. I'll try to be terse and pithy.

What matters most in kid's learning is having the motivation and readiness to learn. If the learner doesn't care and/or isn't ready for the curriculum being presented, almost nothing else poverty, geography or residence or school, teacher excellence, school budget, you name it.

Next in importance and relevance comes the host of other factors that help: student interest, parental involvement, time on task, conducive classroom, pervasive learning environment....there's more, but you get the point.

These ill-conceived standardized tests we've all been sold are designed to measure the performance of an hypothetical standardized student. I hasten to add that this student does not actually exist. He/she is an amalgam of the norming process by the test-makers and designed to give an abstracted average of performance. Furthermore, these tests don't just measure what happens in a classroom. They measure what's been learned in the environment at large during one's waking hours.

Real learners don't come abstracted that way, being as they are good at some kinds of learning and less so at others. Since these tests are little help in helping actual students, we now use them to measure schools, or worse, teachers for which they were not designed. That said, it seems to me that standardized testing is largely a waste of time and an increasingly bigger pile of money better spent elsewhere.

It is not surprising to find that motivated, ready-to-learn students can do well almost anywhere, (exceptions duly noted). Abe Lincoln, we are told, got much of his learning by the light of the cabin fireplace. By today's standards, many of my generation came from neighborhoods and went to schools that would be called impoverished or substandard. We did not think of ourselves that way, however, and many of us ended up with an education that helped us not only find a job, but lead a modest, "examined life."

I do not deny that it is a very different world today. Although the standard of living for almost everyone is higher, the perceived value of an education is diminished in the eyes of many. Good paying jobs for manual labor are mostly gone, and the ones requiring more extensive learning are fading, too. I remain surprised and grateful that so many students do want to learn.

If we'd stop this irrelevant debate and invite both parents and students to join us, I truly believe we'd have more learning more.


No comments: