Sunday, December 6, 2009

What came first...Schools or Tests?

What if schools did not test their students? Anarchy? Apocalypse? Surely.

The fundamental assumption that all education relies upon is that students need to be tested. The argument goes something like this - what if you were flying over the Alps in an airplane, wouldn't you want to know that the pilot had aced his final flying test? Yes, without question. However I would also want to be assured that the pilot wasn't 6 years old.

You see, in Ontario, Grade 1 consists of 1300 outcomes that must be demonstrated over the course of 200 school days. I'm not sure on which day they simulate the flight over the Alps but I have no doubt its in there somewhere. From Grade 1 onward students get into the rhythm of study, test, forget, study, test, forget...and by the end of High School students feel that school is no more that a set of tests to be navigated through. What an insane waste of 16,800 hours of persons life.

Don't get me wrong, I like tests they're fun. But they are not synonymous with education. School should exist to allow students to explore, create and grow up. No one should have to worry about their GPA in Grade 3. I believe that the overuse of tests is a convenient way for unimaginative school leaders to artificially motivate students to study and memorize outdated, mostly irrelevant data.

Every 10 years in every modernized jurisdiction, curriculum is redesigned. It is largely a make work project for educational bureaucrats awoken by the results of some arbitrary standardized test whose results have hit the media. The redesign may or may not be needed and the intention may be sound but the result is always more outcomes, more accountability and more testing.

I say let's try something different, let's simply prepare environments that ensures that every 60 minutes spent at school comes with an hour of discovery. 16,400 hours later we might be surprised at the outcome.

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