Am I a geek or a nerd?

What have we done!?
December 2, 2010, 11:44 am
Filed under: assessment

This past Sunday’s New York Times opinion pages included letters children wrote to the first lady, Michelle Obama.  Some of these letters inspired confidence in our schools and our kids; like the 12-year-old from Flint, Michigan who wrote about hydrogen fusion, the 7-year-old that wants to be the first female president, the 9-year-old who wants tobacco and alcohol out of her neighborhood, or the 11-year-old who wants both an easier way to immigrate and a statue of himself!

 Then there are the standard ‘what’s it like to be famous’ and some very sad letters from kids whose parents are divorcing, or are unemployed, or just plain poor.

But the letter that gutted me, that completely convinced me that we are doing are kids a disservice with testing, came from a 2nd grader.  He starts by requesting more scary books for his classroom and a backpack to carry all the books he needs for school. He also wants a fish. But then, this:

I want to be a teacher when I grow up because I want to teach other kids things they like learning, like how to take a test. Next year I will be going to third grade. In the third grade I am going to learn very fast because I will practice the tests very fast, but sometimes I get answer wrong. I know I can do better than that.

Oh my.

First, I’m so glad he loves school and is motivated to do well. However, he thinks teaching and school is about learning to take tests. He clearly has been told that next year he will be taking some big tests; what second grader thinks about tests that are a year away? What second grader should be?

I’m not saying no tests. I’m saying I think we’ve lost the focus. The tests are supposed to show us what we know and don’t know and allow us to work from there, but it sounds like tests have become the goal themselves. What is that kids want to learn, should learn? I’m pretty sure it’s not how to take a test, despite what 7-year-old Juan from San Francisco might have been lead to believe.


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