Why Should Students Care?
Posted by Brainspring on 18th Feb 2015
How has reading The Smartest Kids in the World been going? I finished over a week ago and all these ideas have been swimming around in my head ever since. I would love to set up a real-time chat about the first half of the book, only the first half. Don’t worry if you haven’t been reading ahead like me.
Let me know which of these 2 dates you would prefer: Thursday, February 26 or Tuesday, March 3.
Then let me know which time is better: 7-7:30 pm EST or 8-8:30 pm EST.
Why Should Students Care?
That has been one of the main questions on my mind. It should have been obvious, but these sentences stopped me in my tracks: “The countries with the best education outcomes all had these tests at the end of high school. It was one of the most obvious differences between them and the United States- which had a surplus of tests, few of which had meaningful effects on kids’ lives.”
I remember taking standardized tests every few years starting around 4th grade. (Looking back, I feel lucky that I wasn’t subjected to them starting in Kindergarten like many students are now!) I don’t remember much about them. I don’t remember what information or skills they covered. I don’t remember studying or worrying about them. I remember needing #2 pencils and to make sure I erased completely. Somehow I knew they were a big deal because almost nothing else was done in school for that week. The school was kept quiet at all times and the teachers kept reminding us to get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast.
Although I knew these tests were somehow important, I never cared much about them because my teachers kept telling me not to. “Don’t worry. Just do your best. This test is actually for the teachers, not the students. It isn’t for a grade. It’s just to check how well we have been teaching you.” Sound familiar? I remember hearing the same preface time after time. Apparently, it didn’t matter how I did. The test wasn’t about me, how smart I was or how much I knew; it was about the teachers (whatever that meant).
Then when I was administering the same kind of test to my 5th grade students as a student teacher…I said exactly the same thing.
How does that make any sense?! Why hadn’t I thought about how fatuous that is until I read those sentences in this book? What kind of educational culture are we creating when we repeatedly hand students high-stakes tests that don’t have any effects on their lives? We disrupt their education for at least a week, sometimes multiple times throughout the year and confine them in a high-stress environment, only to tell them, “It’s not really about you. But do your best.”
It should be about the students. It should be about what they know and what skills they have. They should do their best because it has an effect on their lives. That builds motivation. Having a goal and working to achieve it because it matters. We claim that we want to create students who have the abilities to problem-solve and think creatively, who are independent and driven and who are invested in their education and the world around them. Yet we continue to give them the message that their education isn’t about them.
I’m not exaggerating in saying that. That is exactly the message we send to our students when we repeatedly take up their time and energy for tests that have no impact on their present or future. We tell them their education is someone else’s duty. It’s not their responsibility. They don’t have ownership or power over their learning. We aren’t even testing to see what they know. It’s just to get data about teachers, schools, administrations, programs, etc. Basically it becomes about everything but the students.
With that message, why should students care?
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