Kids Aren’t Engaged at School. So What?

The title is our system’s collective reaction: Gallup has released its biannual (?) Student Poll and the part of it that jumps out at me is how steadily engagement falls the longer students are in school. Creativity also drops the longer you’re in school.  And yet we continue on with the same policies, the same structure, the same format as we’ve been using for ages now.

I share a lot of stories denouncing standardized testing: our over-reliance on what tests can measure, the disappearance of immeasurable impacts from teaching, the displacement of teaching for test prep, and the judgement of all policies and initiatives based on test scores [1. This story in particular is frustrating because it was never OLPC’s intention to raise test scores, and elsewhere in the report, it is noted that there was an increase in “general cognitive skills”, i.e. it helped kids learn how to THINK.  But of course, it’s a “disappointing return on investment.”]  And yet, with studies like these out there, we never stop to reconsider the fundamentals.  We only tweak around the edges.

Most major EdReform ideas follow this trend; a major reason charter and private schools do better [2. Assuming they do. The jury, to my mind, still seems to be out on this one. You do see some measurable, positive effects from students who attend charters.  But again, those are results from tests, which don’t really provide a full picture.  And anyway, even if they do, I’d like to know why we can’t port those positive changes back to public schools.] is because they’re free from the crushing limitations imposed by the testing regime. Yet for public schools, they want to insist on testing students, teachers, and schools, despite any evidence that this is an effective and reliable way of measuring anything.

So students continue to not care, struggling to achieve a grade with limited value and developing none of the skills that are required to survive in this economy.

Added: Came across this article after I posted this that sums up some thoughts I have about focusing on test results:

Look, I have no problem with asserting that reading and math value-add is one measure of good teaching (and, quite frankly, I think it’s probably a big piece in most of the MET districts — and a much smaller piece in school systems where basic skills are less of a pressing concern). But I do think it’s a mistake to imagine that ability to move reading and math scores is universally a compelling proxy for being a “good” teacher. And when we calibrate all of our other instruments based on their ability to predict value-added gains on reading and math assessments, we build our entire edifice of teacher quality on what strikes me as a narrow and potentially rickety foundation. When we see policymakers mandate teacher evaluation systems that rely almost wholly on observation and value-added, and feel comfortable in doing so because of the MET findings, I fear we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

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This post is part of the thread: Testing & Standards in Education - an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.