Friday, December 05, 2003

I know that it won't fly with anybody, but I don't even need fucking statistics or tests to tell me that things like the Texas program is a stupid idea.

Standardized testing as the basis for education is a bad fucking idea, and I know this from experience. In high school, I was in the International Baccalaureate program. It was usually referred to by its acronym, IB, although that was often expanded into things like "It Blows." That oughta give you an idea as to what the program was like.

IB was a lot like AP, only with a bunch of extra bullshit. The program was more structured and basically ran all four years of high school. In addition to classes and shit we had to do 250 hours of community service (mandatory volunteer work) and a huge fucking research paper at the end. Finally, we had to take several tests similar to the AP exams in our last couple of years.

IB pretty much stifled any sort of creativity or desire to learn, because we became ultra-focused on the IB exams. I can't even count the number of times that a teacher was trying to cover some material, or was thinking about covering some material, and a student asked "Is this going to be on the IB exam?" If the answer was "No," we either convinced the teacher to change the lesson plan or we just ended up ignoring what we were taught since we had exam-related shit that we needed to get down.

This isn't because we were stupid or lazy. Okay, we were lazy, but we were still the "smart kids." I'm not trying to be too elitist here, but there were some fucking bright kids in there, along with some medium-smart kids (where I could be found), and then some kids who actually were kinda fucking dumb. Anyway, the problem was that we knew that we had to do well on the IB exams; passing those was paramount. As such, we ended up learning just for the exam, whether by design or student selectivity in what he studied.

To this very day, I have trouble (and sorry for the cliche) thinking outside the box. Yeah, I know, that goes for a lot of people. But it doesn't really carry well in the engineering field. I can trace my difficulties when it comes to problem solving and creativity back to IB, when there was nothing beyond the exam with its one single right answer to be prepared for.

Something similar happens with these stupid programs like TAAS. The results of those tests are so important for funding, recognition, and whatnot that teachers end up doing what our IB teachers did - they taught students what they needed to know so they could pass that exam. Students learn nothing more, and nothing less. This isn't just a guess on my part, either. Here in Colorado we have a similar program, the CSAP tests. I've seen plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests teachers teach material designed solely for higher test scores, leaving them with little or no time to teach anything beyond the CSAPs.

In doing this, of course, exams scores do tend to go up. Of course they do; how could they not, when teachers were gearing the curriculum specifically for taking that test? The real question remains, are those kids any better off, or will they be any more prepared to meet real-world challenges?

I contest that those kids are no better off, and in fact, they are probably worse off. Shit that's on standardized tests is just not applicable to real-life situations. Focusing so heavily on the exams detracts from other things the students could be learning. Things that could be truly enriching, and helping to foster a love of learning. Standardized testing closes off an entire world, because that test becomes your world.

The problem, though, is those rising test scores. They look good on paper, and that's good for the politicians. As such, these programs are allowed to continue. Unfortunately, though, the numbers don't really mean anything when you look at true child development. Unfortunately, this is yet another instance where politics takes precedent over improving people's lives.

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