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The Pitfalls of Test-Focused Education


New York has just become one of the first states to introduce standardized testing that accords with the Common Core curriculum, a set of state-developed national standards and academic guidelines. The curriculum has been adopted by nearly every state, but the associated tests have not. The New York Times reports on the roll-out in New York:

New York public school students and parents are, by now, accustomed to standardized tests. But a pall has settled over classrooms across the state because this year’s tests, which begin Tuesday, are unlike any exams the students have seen. They have been redesigned and are tougher. And they are likely to cover at least some material that has yet to make its way into the curriculum. […]

To cope, schools like Public School 3 in the West Village and Middle School 51 in Park Slope have begun intensive weekend and after-school prep classes, where students are briefed on how to perform math equations that might appear on the tests, in some cases using material they have not previously been taught.

The Common Core curriculum sounds like an interesting initiative, but articles like this give us pause. While we think that some sort of national standardized testing is probably a good thing, our ideal approach would have to be more flexible than New York’s. Accountability is necessary in any system, a basic fact that teachers’ unions have been incredibly reluctant to acknowledge.

But accountability is not a stand-alone solution. We need to incentivize good teachers and help them provide better instruction for our children. Obviously there’s a chicken-and-egg problem going on in New York, but the worst possible outcome for education reform would be to create a situation where the whole point of school becomes unceasing test prep. We’ll see how all this plays out.

[Test image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • george999

    Umm, the incentive for good teachers is that they don’t get fired. They get to keep their job. In what other job do we coddle people so much rather than simply require them to do their job and do it well?

    Sure incentives, bonuses and so on can be an effective part of any employment situation but that’s not the first thing we do or the first thing we require. It’s about time teachers joined the rest of us in the real world and worked under the same conditions and requirements that the rest of us have to follow.

  • Anthony

    See related editorial New York Daily News: “Just what the kids need.”

  • Atanu Maulik

    US schools will either produce Nobel laureates or multiple choice specialists, but not both.

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