Monday, January 24, 2011

Cheating on MCAS at Goddard

Comment on "Motives are the crux of MCAS probe", Clive McFarlane, in the Jan. 24 Worcester Telegram:

Good column, good discussion!

I know how tempting it can be to help a scared struggling student on a test - or to use a test as a teaching opportunity. And I feel for the teachers who have invested years - and a lot of money - in building a teaching career, only to be threatened with failure and defeat. But in a world where honor and integrity are treated as old-fashioned notions and cheating at every level is spinning out of control, schools and teachers must hold the line and set an example for the children.

And yet, we can't just walk away from the issue of what we are doing with those tests! They are damaging and distorting our children and educational system in very deep ways. Subjects that aren't tested get sidetracked or dropped, and endless hours are spend practicing for tests instead of real learning.

Even deeper, the tests freeze in place old ways of seeing and thinking. They remove the possibility of asking "why are we teaching this?" or "Wouldn't it be better to teach this in third grade or as part of a high school biology course?" And even the possibility of asking "does this make sense?"

As a math teacher, my students often challenged me with "this doesn't make any sense!" I always took the challenge on, but sometimes discovered that it really didn't make sense! Yet it was on the test, so I had to say "get over it, just learn it anyway." Not a good answer for a kid who's sick to death of school!

Students would challenge me with "when will I ever need this?" Often the truth was "you won't, except to get through your next two years of math, graduate and get into college." Not a good answer for a kid on the edge of giving up on 9th grade!

Kids - all of them - enter pre-school hungry to learn, full of the joy of life. Our schools crush that out of them! We can and must make of them places where children keep their curiosity, creativity and love of learning, where their minds keep growing and expanding.

Those tests are in the way!