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Emphasis on tests destroys creativity

It was with dismay but not surprise that I read the recent letter to the editor from a group of teachers from Fayette County (“Why is this the worst school year?”).

I could immediately empathize with their sense of frustration, but recognized more importantly their loss of feelings of creativity and pride in what they do.

Education — and the educational bureaucracy — is a pendulum that swings to and fro continuously. When it reaches the edge of extreme it can stop or slow so that it no longer keeps pace with the times.

What has made the United States a leader in the world is innovation, independent thinking, creativity and resourcefulness. Are we promoting this in our schools?

Perhaps it is first important to get a handle on what are we really trying to accomplish in educating our students. Although this could be worded many ways, let me offer some thoughts. We want our students:

• To find a satisfying job or vocation.

• To have the knowledge to be able to handle life situations effectively.

• To have the skill sets necessary for productivity in the future.

• To know how to work cooperatively and effectively with others.

• To know how to go about finding solutions or ways of handling challenges.

Today’s emphasis on passing paper and pencil tests, supposedly as a measure of competence, is the death of creativity.

Ask yourself, how many times in your current profession/job have you been asked to show your worth by taking a paper and pencil test.

Yes, it’s the easiest way to try to “measure something,” but what relationship does it have to what our true goals are for students?

Micromanaging teachers is the death of innovation. In educational bureaucracy, administrators and those setting expectations try to control how and what teachers teach by having them document everything they do. This leaves little time and little energy for developing the innovative ways students will learn best. It also fosters regimentation and mediocrity.

I was talking with a 13-year-old Fayette County student today in my practice. He has a learning disability and I asked his opinion about the CRCT and all the other testing that goes on, from a kid’s perspective.

He told me how he is in a collaborative class, which is a regular class with an extra special education teacher in the class to help students.

He said that about half of the students were in the class because they had failed the CRCT and that the principal added even more teachers to that class setting so that these students may be able to pass the CRCT.

Perhaps that was a good decision in this climate. However, the energy and time that is being devoted to having students simply pass this test so that the school system (any school system) doesn’t look bad is a poor use of teacher talent.

He also told me about the pressure students feel to pass these tests, certainly giving me the impression that this was the most important thing he had to accomplish in school. He is discouraged, unmotivated and beaten down.

There is such a disconnect between what we know from neuroscience about teaching, learning and how the brain works and the current teaching climate.

There is an incredible disconnect between what the world will be like in 10 years and how we are preparing students for it.

It is impossible and foolhardy to try to cram information into students as the amount of information in the world is so huge and so quickly expanding.

The emphasis needs to be placed on teaching students “how” to learn, how to plan, how to find information and use it and helping them toward the true goals we really want for our children. To keep our place in the world we need to foster real problem solving, real creativity, flexibility in thinking, collaboration and independent decision-making.

Teachers need to be treated like the professionals they are. Give them the freedom to soar. I would choose a teacher who instills a love of learning, inquisitiveness, respect for creativity and respect for one another 10 times over that teacher who happens to have the best CRCT scores.

In order for students to really excel in what they will actually need in life, teachers need time to plan, improvise, collaborate, research and engage in reflection.

This is not a perk, it is a necessity. True improvement in real learning starts from the teachers up — not the other way around.

Administrators need to be learning experts and leaders in motivating and empowering students, teachers and parents.

Although most teachers (certainly here in Fayette County) are well-qualified and could and should develop exceptional teaching practices, those who are not and are not effective need to be moved to a different career path.

This needs to be fair, but easier for administrators to do.

It is also important to not get too complacent about the “good” test scores in Fayette County. All the research shows that there is a direct link between socioeconomic status and educational level of parents to achievement test scores.

So we would expect that given these variables Fayette County students should do well. I wonder how well they could do in life if teachers could really teach the way they could and should?

Although I am not a teacher, I have the utmost respect for them. Fayette County, with a new superintendent coming, has an opportunity to take a fresh look at how things are done. One can embark on a new, creative, innovative path or choose to remain on the never ending treadmill, which may look safe, but never truly gets you anywhere.

Lynda Boucugnani-Whitehead, Ph.D.

Fayetteville, Ga.

[Dr. Boucugnani-Whitehead says she is a neuropsychologist in private practice in Fayette County and was previously the director of psychological services and research and development for a major school system.]



Well said, and thank you. Unfortunately, bureaucracy and numbers reign, and students and teachers are caught in the mix. Bucking the system has dire consequences. Perhaps someone with clout will take notice.

After I read today's AJC about the number of kids going to college who aren't prepared to do college work, it is "dire consequences" when not even make-up classes can help them!

About one-half of one local college in Atlanta were trying to be able to finish college by taking remedial courses.
Some had taken the courses several times with the same result--failed.

What I am more concerned about is how did they get there if teacher's were testing them and they still graduated from high school, or some other way, but how many of these kids who can not do the work will eventually be passed through college anyway--some in Nursing, X-ray, management, and even teaching.

It is simply impossible to believe that teachers must pass such students on just to avoid "dire consequences!" How can supervisors hold a teacher responsible for a one year course she taught to a student who obviously came to her that way?

One would think maybe if it all started in the first 4 or 5 grades, producing failure, that something certainly could have been done then!

I am also well aware that most of these failure students are from minority groups. They have been deprived of decent family help and a general heritage so that it really doesn't matter.
Many of the parents and Grandparents and Uncles and Aunts (if known) were simply incapable of helping current students. The same thing happens in majority groups raised in similar circumstances! One minority family trying to help a student will be trashed by the multitude of others also.

It is, again, impossible for teachers and supervisors not to know these things and what causes them. These students weren't born stupid.

Two things need to be done, first, picking up with the 1960s changes, that for one is a new innovative program to start proper raising of children in some fashion other than, or required, a monthly check from the government. Then maybe most will be able to do high school work at least.

Secondly, until the above happens, spend the money now wasted on public schools for the unteachable kids for craft or "how to make a living" schools!

I don't know what we need to do to, or for, the teachers who have the attitude that the kids have a right to be schooled the best they can be--even if terribly.

How did we do it with the millions of minorities who cam here in the 1800s, at least a majority of them? We required it!
(More government intervention TEAS!)

I have no real quarrel with what you wrote, but like many PhDs, you speak in professionalize.

First, schools are not the primary measure of how well a student ultimately does in life. No teacher can do that in one year of English class.

Second, we are attempting to teach kids how to make a living instead of learning what mistakes to avoid from past history. Making a living as an accountant or Manager does little to encourage them to do better than their predecessors. We need thinkers and evaluators and logical people.

Unfortunately, the place where these facts are instilled is at home by a family who all support one another and provide an exemplary example of conduct. We currently are very scarce of that situation.

Teaching to the test is exactly like giving the students the answer or using open book testing. It helps some, forcing them to at least see it, but does little to use logic and training to know the answer.

It seems we are judging the teachers and their jobs instead of the students.

Now for simplification:
Teach them how to budget.
Teach them how to balance a check-book.
Teach them how to write cursive so it can be read.
Teach them how to spell.
Teach them how to calculate and estimate in their brain, not with a calculator only.
Teach history from a standpoint of mistakes to avoid, not why we are messed up now. Knowing precise years of occurrence isn't necessary, just what decade or century is sufficient.

Teach them how to find answers to any question they think of that is of interest to them instead of just forgetting it.
Teach them modern manners used by highly educated people.
Teach them how to use a screw-driver (manual).

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