Standardized testing is meant to be a means to an end: one measure of the extent to which learners have mastered basic content, skills and competencies necessary to lead fruitful, meaningful and productive lives. Unfortunately, standardized tests like the PSSAs have become ends in themselves — collectively, a high-stakes zero-sum game where the innate wonder and curiosity of children are twisted and contorted into a confounding mess of ambiguity, self-doubt and stress.
As with all PSSA seasons, this one is marked by weeks of overly intensive “teach-to-the-test” cram sessions where stats and game strategies take precedence over actual learning. Children are expected to somehow sustain a love of learning in an atmosphere where teachers and administrators nervously scramble to reach performance goals on pain of losing funding and, by extension, jobs. The natural consequence of this is that our kids learn the pointless art of cramming, testing and forgetting when they ought to be taking ownership over the knowledge and skills needed to be willing lifelong learners. Meanwhile, even talented veteran teachers burn out in the demoralizing chase of scores that ignore subtle but real successes with diverse flesh-and-blood learners.
I support high, measurable standards, but when the form and execution of those standards are detached from — or obstructive to — meaningful learning experiences, then we need to reconsider our approach. On the path we’re presently taking, would it be any wonder if tomorrow’s adults are even more confused, stressed, ill-informed and cynical than their parents? This country can’t afford that.
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