Teaching to the Test

In Alabama, the new school year is starting. In the US, those of us who work in education or are closely related to those who do, are surely aware of No Child Left Behind. Sounds like a good idea on the surface. But, the guidelines seem to reflect Garrison Keillor’s claim about lake Woebegon:  “… and all the children are above average.”  Something about the concept of average got lost. To have be average means that something is above (higher, better, a bigger number) you and something is below (lower, not as good, smaller number) you… or that everything is exactly the same, with nothing outstanding at all. Not gonna work, if I understand the requirements. If you get everyone up to what was the average when you started, and some move beyond, then average is higher.

Don’t get me wrong here — I want every child to be able to develop to her/his own potential. I do want some recognition that each child’s potential can be quite different.

So, what happens? Too often, teachers find that they must “Teach to the test.” Teach only those things that someone has decreed to be essential, because if any child can’t master this enough to fill in the proper circle on the page, then the entire year is a failure. Leaves little room for preparing those kids to think, to experiment, to learn even more (or less) than the prescribed lesson.

It seems rather like church. I didn’t grow up a Catholic, but even I can start to give a Baltimore Catechism answer to Who is God? Why did God Make Us? It’s true that catechism (Baltimore or New) answers can give a starting point for exploring my own walk in faith. So often, it seems, rote answers are the end of this journey, not the beginning. The proper answer is what is expected. It is the test. The Church teaches to the Test, instead of leading people beyond or pointing people to the Source.  I have a strong sense that Jesus wasn’t looking for everyone to be average.

Just thinking… that’s all.






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