Sunday, January 16, 2011

Doing Well On Testing--Good, or Bad?

The usual handwringing is occurring now that international test results have been released, and China comes out near the top and the US in the middle.

Here in the United States, we value creatiiiiiiiiiiiivity. That our kids don't do well on state, national, or international tests, well, we explain that away somehow. When the Chinese do well, we (and sometimes even they) claim that the Chinese system makes great test-takers but not great thinkers.

False dichotomy. Seriously. The two are not mutually-exclusive. In fact, we should strive for both.

And consider this: if you don't know the material well enough to do well on a test, you don't know it well enough to be "creative" with it. This parallels my beliefs about critical thinking: you can't think critically about something without first having a broad base of knowledge on which to draw. Making excuses for mediocre performance is just sour grapes, nothing more.

Update, 1/17/10: I've received the author's permission to post the following, which was sent to an emaillist to which I am subscribed:

From the article:

"Students rise at dawn, disappear into school until dinnertime and toil into the late night over homework in preparation for university entrance exams that can make or break their future."

Fortunately for our kids in the USA, college won't "make or break their future." (sarcasm)

more from article:

"They have huge vocabularies and they do math well. However, the level of their creativity and imagination is low."

They fill our STEM graduate programs in the USA. They account for a high percentage of IT startups in the USA. The percentage of USA patents filled by Chinese goes up every year. The percentage of scientific articles published in the world by Chinese goes up every year.

They are giving "failure" a bad name.


Ellen K said...

One of the most talented teachers I have ever known left the public schools because of their reliance on high stakes testing. He was an AP Chemistry teacher and had a record number of students scoring 4 or higher on an AP exam for more than ten years. His contention is that there is little correlation between doing well on standardized tests in high school and success in college. He believed that we are far more involved in gaming the tests than teaching the material. He tried to get approval to do research on this for his doctorate, but the university he attended was part of the group that wrote TAKS for the state of Texas. Seeing how involved many core teachers are in imparting tricks in order to get their class numbers up, I have to say that we are in danger of having a generation that is only capable of regurgitating whatever facts they are fed. Their skills in synthesizing data are eroding and we are seeing the dumbing down of AP classes to give the appearance that all subgroups are participating. Isn't it time we stop playing numbers games and get back to teaching our subjects?

KauaiMark said...

You can't "teach" creative and you can't be creative if you don't master basics.

Schools should stick to basics and allow the creative to excel without mandating that all outcomes will be "equal"

PeggyU said...

I realize that teachers can't help but teach to a test when their jobs hang on the results of that exam. I don't know if this is useful or not, but one thing I have found that seems to work for my boys is to have them find various online tests that cover whatever subject they are studying for. For example, if one of them has a test coming up on quadratic functions, there are any number of online resources that have interactive quizzes and tests. What is good about this, I think, is that different people present information slightly differently - but ultimately there are not usually that many variations on the way problems are given. When students are with one teacher, though, they get used to the way he or she formats things and it seems to throw them a bit when that format changes. I think if they are used to using different sources then they adapt more readily to an unfamiliar test - maybe because that approach makes them identify the most important and most often tested concepts. I was thinking it might make more sense to study this way than to teach to a specific test.

skeneogden said...

College can break your future. Just look at all of the student loan debt being carried by many graduates who can't find a job or have useless degrees.

For many a college degree will be the beginning of a debt hole they will spend a good part of their lives trying to claw their way out of.