2014

17 September 2014: Testing hurts creativity, innovation

Testing hurts creativity, innovation

In last week’s column, I wrote about the need for parents to embrace their role as their child’s primary teacher.  An essential truth is that for a child to live up to and meet his/her academic potential, education must be valued in the home by parents and reinforced each day through modeling—reading, reviewing their child’s homework, doing their own homework—for in the end, teachers are not miracle workers.

Another misconception that gets at the rub of our educational confliction is the role of testing, which has morphed from measuring where the student is vis-à-vis his/her study and skill set to grading the schools and by extension the teachers.  The hard truth is this new role for standardized testing has nothing to do with authentic educational measurement and everything to do with politics and the blame game.  Ironically though, if standardized testing is having any beneficial outcome, it is that it’s instilling within students a healthy dose of cynicism, a requisite for a stable democracy.  But I digress.

What has become evident through its proliferation and overuse is that standardized testing has become counterproductive and is consequently killing the goose that lays the golden egg, which is not a metaphor for the school and teachers but for a curious mind blossoming in a loamy soil of wonderment.

In his Washington Post piece “When it comes to STEM, forget test scores,” Dominic Basulto explores the educational phenomenon STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—and how American educators have been fostering STEM education at the earliest ages.

“Entirely new curricula have been formed, new school programs have been created,” writes Basulto, “and even classic childhood favorites like Sesame Street have been re-thought for STEM careers.

“The core belief is that if you teach kids early, they will embrace STEM disciplines and maybe even turn into STEM super kids.”

That should do it but the problem with that brilliant idea is that it has run smack into a wall, one that is supposed to assess a child’s talent and interest in the various areas: Testing.

As Basulto notes, drill-and-kill smothers curiosity, an essential component of a creative mind.  You cannot measure creativity: You can observe it, wonder about it, and stand in awe in its presence, but you cannot put it on a scale, reduce it to points, or assess it on paper.

Further, creativity is to innovation as oxygen is to a person.  Without creative minds, innovation and consequently our innovative economy, the philosophic and essential underpinning of the American system, wither and die.

Past and present offer examples of unstifled, innovative, creative, and curious minds: Edison, Einstein, and Ford from the past; Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) today.

Basulto points out that since the “Educate to Innovate” initiative began under President Obama’s direction in 2009 American students’ STEM test scores haven’t budged according to the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test results from 2012.

“In fact,” he writes, “America now appears to be falling behind countries such as Poland and Ireland when it comes to math and science scores. Not to mention the fact that China is now No. 1 in the world.”

Raise your hand if you prefer living in any of those countries and making a go of it in their economy.

The problem is, he argues, is that “As long as the stories about poor U.S. test results continue to gain traction (and headlines), it will be harder for the truly unique STEM programs out there to maintain or gain momentum.”

It is frequently said the true sign of insanity, which I will supplant with “idiocy,” is repeating an action and expecting a different result.  The use of widespread standardized testing and all that it encapsulates is an example of that.  It is sheer idiocy to continue down this path.

Basulto states it more elegantly though, and puts the debate in context:

“If the choice is between (a) having innovation clusters like Silicon Valley and middle-of-the-pack test scores or (b) having top-of-the-pack test scores and a second-rate innovation economy as in China, the choice is clear.

“So let’s not fall into the trap of solely measuring success by metrics like test scores. Let’s instead focus on all the intangibles of innovation — companies started, apps created, unique science fair experiments and most importantly, dreams fulfilled — for judging the future success of our nation’s STEM programs for kids.”

It’s up to us to decide which holds greater value.

 

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