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Focus on Testing is Off-Track

October 9, 2012

Last week I met with business leaders from our community. The majority of the conversation revolved around what business needs the workforce to be able to do. The typical items arose. Here is the list, which is probably the same across the country, maybe even the world.

đź‘«Collaboration – “we need people who can work together in teams.”

🙇Critical Thinking – “we need people who can be given a situation and resolve the situation without having someone else tell them what to do.”

đź’ˇInnovation – “we need people who can brainstorm new and original ideas.”

The inevitable question then came up… “Why is it that our students, who graduate from our schools, cannot do these things?”

The answer is simple – testing. I went from a mediocre principal to a really good principal when my students answered six more questions correctly on the ACT. Were the students any better at the skills necessary for success in business? NO. They were better at eliminating answer choices from what was given to them and completing skills that had one right answer. Testing emphasizes a small set of skills, and the skills being emphasized are limiting, not enriching.

A Vice-President in a prominent business echoed the sentiment. His sons scored well on standardized testing and yet have no sense of what it takes to be successful in his company. Problems at his workplace were not simple and choices were not layed out as multiple choice answers. Critical, innovative thinking was paramount to the success of his business. Even the positions he referred to as skilled laborers needed to be able to think on their feet.

How does this impact me personally? My six and seven year old daughters are ‘learning’ how to pick correct answers… over and over and over again.

Where should our focus be going? STEM type education ideas are more in line with what our kids need in order to be prepared. In particular, given a problem without a set of solutions, having students be able to develop their own solution and explain the rationale behind the ideas. Thoughts should be clear, explainable, and, yes, even creative.

As it is now, we have huge parties and pat each other on the back when 10% more of our kids reach proficiency on a test that couldn’t be less important to actual life success. We are actually happy when this occurs. 10% increases in test scores gain awards, accolades, and are the new mantra of educators across the country. Business is pushing for a better prepared workforce. And we couldn’t be sending them a more unprepared group.

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