Despite my background in tests and measures, I’ve been virulently opposed to the whole concept of standards-based education in public schools. To my way of thinking, that approach is about teaching kids how to do well on tests, rather than how to do well in life, which are two completely different things. Worse, if the US is going to compete internationally on the basis of test results, we will lose. It’s impossible for us to overcome the phenomenal discipline parents in other cultures apply to drive their children toward test success. Americans (by and large) just aren’t that way, and that’s served us to our advantage time and time again. (For a clear, if fictional, illustration of this principle, see Kirk’s answer to the Kobayashi Maru. If you need a ‘real life’ example, look to MacAruthur’s return to the Phillipines.)
However, I’ve just had an insight from some recent reading. It might, possibly, may be that teaching to the test isn’t all bad, if it gives teachers a challenge; a purpose; a result on which to focus their efforts, one which is more concrete and apparent than producing ‘a well-rounded student’.
Consider for example the profile and tweets of the Sylvania Schools’ Assistant Director of Curriculum, Julie Sanford. I realized after reading her statement that “CURRICULUM IS FUN!” (capitalization is hers) that having a meaningful educational agenda to work on, even if that curriculum is oriented toward the result of producing test-compliant kids, may supply a sense of purpose for teachers in the classroom. This, in turn, may yield the well-rounded students we’re actually trying to produce. The last time we (as a country) had such clarity and urgency in teaching, especially in the areas of science, math, and engineering, was when we were in the Space Race with the Soviet Union, and look how that turned out.