Testing Madness on the Race to Nowhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA colleague at a nearby school sent me this link to the NYTimes – just the latest bulletin from a world gone mad with narrow definitions of achievement and success. Test prep for pre-school no less. And a real moneymaker for the lucrative (and unregulated) test prep industry.

Tips for the Admissions test – to Kindergarten

“Kayla Rosenblum sat upright and poised as she breezed through the shapes and numbers, a leopard-patterned finger puppet resting next to her for moral support.

But then came something she had never seen before: a visual analogy showing a picture of a whole cake next to a slice of cake. What picture went with a loaf of bread in the same way?

Kayla, who will be 4 in December, held her tiny pointer finger still as she inspected the four choices. “Too hard,” she peeped.

Test preparation has long been a big business catering to students taking SATs and admissions exams for law, medical and other graduate schools. But the new clientele is quite a bit younger: 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance — costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions — will help them win coveted spots in the city’s gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.”

What happened to childhood?

What happened to all the decades of research and study that shows that play is the work of the child and that narrow definitions of achievement serve only to exclude children from their birthright of unique success?

What happened to common sense that knows that getting down on the floor and playing with, and listening to, children is best way to help their cognitive growth? There are ways to promote children’s intellectual growth. Test prep anxiety is not one of them.

This week we both heard Dr. Paul Yellin whose presentation to parents and faculty began by emphasizing what we already know about children’s minds:

  • There is no perfect brain
  • Intellectual diversity is the norm
  • Brains change over time and continue to grow throughout our lifetimes

One size does not fit all.  PDS knows that.  We all know that. All kinds of minds deserve respect and appreciation and can learn. Resilient, creative, flexible, ethical and persistent thinkers and doers succeed. And learning is a habit for a lifetime and directly connected with personal purpose and joy. The best preparation is to build school learning that enables children to develop those skills and the test is life itself. And it begins with play. It does not begin with pumping your child with canned instruction. Programs like Baby Einstein are cognitive dead ends. (You can now apply for a refund from Disney – this is true, check the link.)

We all know that the world needs a variety of aptitudes and experiences and we must value each child’s unique talents and know they are on an individual journey. There are many minds within one family – let alone classroom, school, world. And we need all of them.

Why then do we continue to insist otherwise with our emphasis on testing and the pressure and anxiety that goes with it.

I need a new category for some posts to this blog: Educational Insanity.

And what is the price of this testing madness?  Childhood is the price. And you only get one of those. And if we strip the joy of learning from childhood then the damage is incalculable. And to what end?

At the high school level here’s one answer in Race To Nowhere. This film takes a look at education, childhood and the unintended consequences of the achievement and test obsessed way of life that permeates American education and culture. The pressure on kids is unrelenting and is creating a generation suffering from unprecedented levels of stress, depression and burnout. No wonder 2,000 kids a day drop out of high school. Here’s the trailer:

And in the Hope department: Here comes this from Time Magazine.

“The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids….”

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