OPINION:  Testing and mandates replace creative learning in schools

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ISLAND VOICES - Opinion

Testing and mandates replace creative learning in schools


By Danielle Douglass


During a recent visit to Waipahu High School, federal education leader Arne Duncan claimed that Hawaii was making “notable strides.” Duncan and state officials visited the school to see the progress our Department of Education has made with the $75 million “Race to the Top” grant aimed to prepare public school students for college and career. He commented on the extraordinary progress made by the state and praised Hawaii for being one of five most rapidly improving states in the nation.

What the secretary of education really means is Hawaii’s test scores are improving, largely because teachers are trained to teach to the test and their effectiveness rating now depends on those scores. What is happening in our schools is causing frustration and emotionally damaging our most valuable resources: our children.

If you are a parent, you have a choice. You are your child’s advocate and I urge you to explore this issue further and ask yourself whether opting out of testing is right for your child. For some, this choice could save a child’s self-esteem or, more importantly, their passion and zest for learning and life itself.

Children are treated like robots in the classroom and are being robbed of freedom and expression in order to prepare for the test. Subjects like art, P.E., music and health are dwindling from a test-taking crammed curriculum. Today’s keiki are equipped with a host of strategies to help them successfully arrive at the correct answer.

My own students work tirelessly at test preparation to improve their score to pass “the test.” My students with learning disabilities have to take the same test as their general education peers, even though they are legally granted individualized instruction. They want the big bunch of cookies they are rewarded with if they pass, or participation in that end-of-year school or class party.

I have had students miss school during test days, cry when they see their score, and even hide in the bathroom. My students are filled with anxiety, stress and shame about the score they get on the test. My students are 8 and 9 years old.

The Common Core and high-stakes testing may have had the best of intentions when originally created — especially in regards to giving students of economic disadvantage equal access to education. Unfortunately, what has happened with testing is that numbers and metrics are evaluating individuals and placing them into categories. Teachers are using scripted programs, and a “cookie cutter, one size-fits-all” model has taken over schools across the nation.

Children are not all the same and today’s biggest business sector — technology — takes enormous creativity and innovation. These skills are not tested on standardized tests and are not being taught and encouraged in schools. Students’ creativity and individuality are being smothered. Testing is a “one size fits all” approach, and no child should fit into that mold.

I will not be returning to teaching next school year. It is not a decision I take lightly and it breaks my heart because I love teaching. I care deeply about my students and their families. There are a host of reasons for my decision but the main ones come down to high-stake testing, monitoring data, striving for substantial “student growth,” and quite simply, a system that fails to serve the best interests of children.

Today’s teachers are stripped of all creative ability and are suffocated under standardized testing and curriculum mandates. The new “educator effectiveness” system demoralizes teachers as professionals because it ties rankings and pay raises to the way students perform on these tests. It just doesn’t sit ethically with me.

Danielle Douglass