Stressing the intellectual over the academic
The next time your child comes in from school, instead of saying: “Did you get all of the answers correct today?” try saying: “Did you ask any good questions today?”The difference between these two questions highlights what makes a school system effective. The first question stresses academic goals. These are concerned with achievement and getting good grades. The second questions stresses intellectual goals. These stress learning and questioning. Parents need to give school systems and boards of education permission to emphasize intellectual goals over achievement goals.Boards of education that emphasize academic goals over intellectual goals usually do so because academic results are easier to measure and to quantify. Boards that stress academic goals tend to become very test oriented. They buy into the exaggerated claims of the test publishers about what the results reveal. When the scores come out, some boards give directives to administrators on what they believe these numbers mean. In many cases, the outcomes of these directives do not prove to be educationally sound.Each school district is unique. In order to educate its own population, each needs a set of objectives arrived at by mutual agreement among parents, school board, administrators and staff. The results from carefully chosen group tests can be used by the district to determine if their objectives have been met and also can function as a tool for future planning. That is the correct use of group test results. Those districts that use group test results to compare either one group of children with another, one child with another, or one district with another are not using them correctly. The tests are not standardized for those purposes.There are many potential educationally unsound outcomes of a school board’s incorrect use of test results. Here are two examples:1. The district changes its appropriate goals to misguided ones because the published tests failed to reflect the gains the district actually had made. In this case, the board shows more faith in the test publisher’s claims than it does in its professional staff.2. In order for the scores to be high, the district adopts a rigid curriculum for every student to follow, which teaches to the published test. As a result, the teacher can no longer use the repertoire of skills every good teacher develops. Instead, she must be robot-like and “follow the book.” When this happens, many children, with their unique learning styles and temperaments, are not reached and may fail to learn. This is especially calamitous in those districts that adopt one reading program for the whole school. Teachers know that every child could and would learn to read given the motivation and right program. School boards need to show confidence in their teaching staff by giving them the opportunity to use their professional skills and training for the good of all of the children in the district.In general, parents and school boards should avoid equating high grades and test scores with true learning. This is especially relevant in the primary grades because test scores are abstract concepts which are not understood by children. It is much more helpful to the concrete-thinking child to point out what he has done right rather than giving him a grade that only serves as a number comparison to other students.Children who are only taught to label, to repeat, to reproduce, to list and to describe may do well on standardized tests and make the district look good, but most parents want more.They want schools to help their children to become critical thinkers who not only are learners who remember and use what they have learned but know how to solve problems and to find answers to their questions.Nancy Devlin has a PhD. and lives in Vail.Vail Colorado
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