Are Low Test Scores Our Enemy?

I watched “Waiting for Superman” today. I had been impatiently waiting for an opportunity to do so since I found out about it several weeks ago; I think education is extremely important in life and feel the public schooling system here in the United States has in many ways discouraged students from becoming further educated. A documentary that critiques this system, then, filled me with anticipation.

As the film progressed, there were a few things that niggled at me; as is usually the case for me, I only began to realize what they were after spending some time reading more on the subject after the film.

When the film introduced the No Child Left Behind Act, I expected the initial praise to lead to disappointment at the negative aspects of increased standardized testing, an emotion that never came.

One of the major problems Michelle Rhee’s more-pay-for-better-teachers campaign introduced was possible cheating on the standardized tests; even if you don’t believe the allegations, it’s easy to see how such a situation could occur.

But even disregarding corruption in the schooling system, we have to ask ourselves - are we measuring the goal we want to achieve? The film touts raised test scores as if that’s what we want - children who are really, really good at taking tests. I don’t know about you, but I want my children to be intelligent, funny, fulfilled people throughout their lives, things that go so much further than our simple STAR tests.

When I first saw Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk on creativity, it resonated deeply with me. Ken has talked, both there and elsewhere, about a different perspective on intelligence, one that values art as highly as mathematics.

Successful entrepreneurship is based upon bringing new ideas to the marketplace. Inventors succeed when they come up with wildly novel creations. Famous mathematicians, while thanked for their contributions, are often overshadowed by great writers, poets, and actors.

I’m very fortunate to have the parents I do. While they encouraged me to do well in school, they realized that school alone could not make me a fulfilled person and spent time teaching me about music, nature, and religion. I remember talking to a friend of mine in 1st grade who, while we were covering addition and subtraction in class, was receiving education in multiplication and division from his parents. I was confused - why bother learning that now when you’ll get to it later and have so many other interesting things to do?

I’m also incredibly lucky to have found employment that is more of a passion than a job. In our high schools, kids are told to focus on the subjects that universities tend to favor for entrance exams - math, science, English. Go down the halls of my high school and ask teens what they want to do with their lives - those who don’t answer with a shrug will tell you they’ll probably go work in the oil fields or at a hair salon, not because they’d like to, but because they see no better choice. If we snuff out kids’ dreams by the time they get to high school, how do we expect to motivate them by telling them that college will help them achieve their dreams?

Our schools need to promote learning, not merely learning of a few choice subjects we deem the most important. Kids need to be exposed to all sorts of things they’d otherwise never touch - how do you expect someone to become a master potter if they never take a pottery class? And most importantly, we need to recognize that diversity is better for us all - math may keep our bodies alive, but music is for our souls.