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Teaching to Learn or Teaching to Test?

What good is teaching to test if students cannot balance a checkbook, write a grammatically correct letter or do simple math without the use of a calculator?

There is hardly a day that goes by in any given week that I don't pass and in my goings and comings. As I pass Dacula Middle School, I sometimes notice acronyms and dates posted on the sign out front. Are these acronyms the criterion tests I hear and read so much about? When I see these acronyms and dates, I invariably ask myself the question: "Are we teaching our kids to learn or are we teaching our kids to test?"

I will have to admit that I am from the old school where I was taught to learn the subject matter. When test time came, testing took care of itself. Teaching to learn or teaching to test was a question I asked a retired educator at lunch last week. She confirmed there was enormous pressure on our classroom teachers to produce criterion test results in the classroom. 

My thoughts are what good does it do to teach a kid to test if when he or she graduates they cannot balance a checkbook, write a grammatically correct letter, or add, subtract, multiply, divide, and do fractions without the use of a calculator? What good does it do to use spell check on a computer if they don't know how to spell?  

It appears we have developed a cookie cutter mentality in thinking every kid entering high school today is college material or has the same career objectives in mind. Not so. I keep thinking back to a column written by syndicated columnist Dick Yarbrough, a good friend and a great American, about a bill that then State Representative (now State Senator) Fran Milar introduced during the 2008 session of the Georgia General Assembly. The bill was entitled "Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia's Economy or BRIDGE for short.

Rep. Milar's bill recognized that all kids entering high school are not college material. His bill called for creating a market-demand skills program in grades 10-12 in Georgia's high schools and providing a separate track for kids who were not comtemplating a four year degree and providing them with the skills to compete in the job market while in high school.

As I understood Rep. Milar's 2008 bill, it would have provided three separate curriculum paths for high school students. Path one would be for those students who would enter the work force or join the military. Path two would be a curriculum for those students who planned to attend a technical school such as Gwinnett Tech. Path three would be a curriculum for those students who planned to enter a four year college.

Keep in mind this plan would not preclude a student who chose path one or path two from obtaining a four year college degree on down the road. A student who chose either path could  still obtain a two year associates degree and apply for admission to a four year college.    

Good news though for those about to start high school. Senator Milar recently advised me that BRIDGE is being further strengthened this year with  legislation to provide dual credit for high school, technical college or university work. All children in ninth grade will have an individual graduation plan. Senator Milar says that the world is finally understanding that our mission in education is not to create Rhodes Scholars but productive citizens. The end result will be higher graduation and lower dropout rates in Georgia.  

I am a proponent of our public education system. I am a product of a public education and proud of it. I hold our classroom teachers in high esteem. I do get tired of them being jerked around in the political arena though. As I stated earlier, I am from the old school. Criterion testing? Didn't know what it was. My classroom teacher in any given subject determined whether I was proficient or not and ready to move on. Parent/teacher conference? Didn't know what they were. The teacher sent a note home saying I was failing in algebra and the only conference I was privy to was the conference my daddy had with me. Daddy had a way with words. Pass/fail in athletics? Nope, same thing. Note sent home by the principal. Daddy said you don't pass, you don't play. Is something resonating here?

Parents must get involved and stay involved in their child's education from day one. They must give teachers their full support. Bottom line? Put the pass/fail responsibility back on our classroom teachers and let them teach to learn. We have good teachers in our public schools. Give them the tools to teach, put the pass/fail responsibility on them and they will measure up. They would relish this opportunity. Give them this responsibility and our kids will measure up accordingly. How? They will become productive citizens. That's the way I see it.     

Patrick T. Malone March 04, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Well done. Without parental involvement educational reform is doomed.
Carolyn Everett Buice March 04, 2011 at 05:24 PM
This is the best news I've heard in a very long time regarding public education. The concept explained by Sen. Milar is very much like the concept used in GCPS in the 60's. Very productive and highly effective. Case in point. . .After graduating from NGHS in 1966, I pursued additional Secretarial Science courses at what was then known as DeKalb Tech. After viewing my transcripts and seeing all the "commercial" courses taken at North, the Counselor advised me there was nothing else they could offer that I had not already taken. He then offered me a job! We were given an opportunity at North to take "go commercial" or college-prep. I chose commercial with 3 years of typing and shorthand, bookkeeping, Business Math, Business English, VOT (Vocational Office Training--"on-the-job training" with an afternoon job as a legal secretary), and every other business-related course offered. Sen. Milar is right. Not every student who walks into a school, whether public or private, is college material. Additionally, I have never agreed with the method of teaching to test. Our students are NOT learning this way. This in itself is a tragedy. I say go back to the basics and the rest will take care of itself. Great article!!
Dawn Siska March 04, 2011 at 06:44 PM
I was attending a meeting with the Hall County Superintendent of Education and he said that of the 180 days that our children are IN school that 80 of those days are dedicated to standardized testing prep and standardized test taking ... how crazy is that ???? Imagine what our children could learn if we could free our teachers from the burden of "big brother" and allow them to do what their passion is ... teaching :)
M.K. OSBORNE March 05, 2011 at 02:19 AM
Jimmy , I really enjoyed and appreciated your views. I think we should provide the opportunity of a quality education to all children and meet there needs to become productive citizens by providing a well rounded education that meshes the old with the new then i think we would be on to something. Diversity of education from College to Vocational should be offered and encouraged because any furthered education would be to the best intrest of the child and our future. Thanks !!

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