Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Test scores good, learning better

Good news about the Tracy Unified School District's standardized test scores. Across-the-board, the scores are up.

If only those scores meant something. Well, OK, so they do mean something. But not necessarily that these kids are getting a good education. (Though I'm sure, Tracy Unified officials and teachers, that they are.)

Talk to many teachers, and standardized testing is often described as a pain, if not something that actually prevents learning. Good scores on standardized tests don't just tell us that students know the subject material -- they more often reveal that students are good at taking standardized tests, not that they're prepared to enter the world after school.

These two things are not necessarily the same thing.

Consider all the time spent teaching specifically to state- and federally mandated tests. Now consider all the valuable things that could (should) be taught instead.

Things such as basic civics (you have no idea how few people understand that funding for school districts and cities do not, in fact, come out of the same general fund -- or who even know what a general fund is) or economic survival (it seems our credit-hungry society could use some schooling on home budgeting and taxes) or even writing (don't get me started).

Then there are the bygone subjects that imparted hands-on skills that even my generation never got to experience -- auto shop, metal shop, carpentry. It's more than just money problems that prevents these things being taught. It's also the time.

I realize that testing will always be a necessary part of school. Even standardized testing has its place, if judiciously administered. But preparing for fill-in-the-bubble tests, and their corresponding scores, should never be mistaken for true learning.

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