Does This Sound Like YOUR School?

This is the worst time of the school year for me.  

That’s because we are in the middle of the long slog to the End of Grade Exams — a series of high stakes tests that, at least here in North Carolina, are used to rate and evaluate everyone and everything connected with public education.

What’s crazy to me, though, is the VAST majority of the content assessed on our end of grade exams — particularly in social studies and science — is content that can be Googled.

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Slide - Taught In Schools

Need some examples?

My students will need to know the difference between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks, the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves, and the impact that density has on both light and sound.  They’ll need to be able to name both the male and female parts of plants, explain the difference between atoms and elements, and identify chemical and physical properties of matter.

They’ll be asked about the reasons for the seasons, the reason for eclipses, and the reason for tides.  They’ll have to know the layers of the earth and the characteristics of habitable planets.  They’ll see questions about the focus and epicenter of earthquakes, the compressions and rarefactions in sound waves, and the lens and cornea in your eyes.

Should I keep going?

Now don’t get me wrong:  I understand the importance of having foundational knowledge about essential content.  It’s impossible to make new discoveries when you have no basic understanding of what’s happening in the world around you — and while it’s POSSIBLE to Google darn near everything in our required curriculum, it’s also incredibly inefficient and time consuming.  Fluency with core ideas matters.

But it’s also important to understand that by tying high stakes tests to mastery of basic facts, we are fundamentally changing what happens in the science classroom.

As a teacher, I’m forced into making a decision between spending class time on wondering and investigation and collaboration OR spending class time covering as many basic facts as possible.  Choose the former, and I’ll have students who are better prepared to be the kind of inquisitive scientists who make important discoveries that change the world.  Choose the latter and I’ll have students who are better prepared to pass our state’s standardized exams.

I know what you are thinking, y’all:  Why can’t you do both?  Why can’t you integrate inquiry into classrooms where students ALSO walk away with a solid understanding of basic facts?

The answer is you can — as long as the list of “basic facts” that kids are expected to know is manageable.  And at least now — in North Carolina — that’s not the case.  Our essential curriculum is massive and unmanageable.

That has to change.


Related Radical Reads:

Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year


2 thoughts on “Does This Sound Like YOUR School?

  1. Robert Schuetz

    Hello Bill,
    My personal view is standardized tests like the ones you describe are completely inauthentic measures of learning. In my support of classroom teachers, we identify the most essential of the learning standards. We ask students to create visual interpretations of these standards and post them in the classroom, and in the LMS course. At this point, students have clearly articulated the learning targets, let the inquiry take over. Ask students to reference the learning standards (tagging or labels) as part of their research or creation processes. In short, yes, you can do both, but the process should be learner driven instead of test driven. Speaking to the choir, I know.

  2. John

    Bill, great thoughts. I don’t think all state tests hit the basic facts as you described. In Texas, several tests have such complicated questions that even authors of the passage can’t answer. I do agree that we must teach kids AND adults how to search for important information. I only wish we had state assessment systems that mirrored that idea.

    Keep pushing the envelope


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