It’s Testing Season

Well, I made myself a promise, and I am trying to stay true to that promise.  While this blog entry did not go the way I anticipated, I am keeping my promise.  I sat down at the keyboard and wrote.  I would like to readdress the idea of Competency-Based Education in a later blog…but until then, enjoy my diatribe.

As we enter testing season, the age-old debate rears its ugly head.  People from both sides of the spectrum spout their rhetoric about why we need or don’t need testing.  Then, just as sure as the seasons change, nothing gets resolved.  Both sides of the argument have valid points.  Testing is important to monitor progress, yet it’s stressful for an 8-year old to have so much riding on one test.  As educators, we face this question with for empathy for both sides.  Most of all we feel for kids.  Is there an alternative that keeps both sides, well, happy?

Everyone seems to have theories, ideas, and methods that will fix our education system.  One such “idea” comes in the form of Competency Based Education.  In Competency Based Education, students are measured by what they’ve learned, not the amount of time they’ve spent in the classroom.  As students meet the standards, they are advanced.  Of course, this goes against the traditional theory of education, where students “graduate” based off a date on the calendar, ready or not.  Students are evaluated on individual standards, on a grade level.

At first glance, the theory seems like the most logical way to facilitate a well-rounded education.  But, as with any revolutionary idea, there is also a downside.  The biggest hurdle is a logistical one.  How do we advance students based off standards, when the standards are so diverse?  For example, in 3rd Grade Math, we teach rounding, multi-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, and then fractions.  Mastery of multiplication and division does not automatically guarantee a high level of understanding in fractions.  Does that mean a student will be “sent down” in the middle of the year?  How about in Language Arts?  We all have those students that are great writers but struggle with reading comprehension.  What happens with them.

I found this quote interesting, as it truly highlights the point I am trying to make.  “Education systems in the past have been notorious for jumping on bandwagons but nothing substantially changes under the surface. In our model, everything has changed under the surface,” said Oliver Grenham, chief education officer of Hodgkin’s district, Adams County School District 50 in Colorado. Thanks, PBS News Hour, for that quote.

I understand, or at least I think I understand, what Mr. Grenham is saying, but I disagree.  While we are faced with the bandwagon conundrum, the “under the surface” remains the same.  Under the surface, no matter your ideology is the same and should always remain the same.  Under the surface, every child is different.  Every child learns differently.  We must develop a system that every child can learn their own way.  The “measurement tool” that evaluates their progress should be tailored to their learning style.  Until we address this, every educational fix will always be the same “under the surface”.

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