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During my (short) tenure as an elementary school teacher after completing a Master's in Elementary Education, there was one underlying frustration that ran through both teachers and parents alike. Every single one of us hated that our kids were stuck under the curriculum of "teaching to the test."
There's not a teacher I know who thinks that preparing students for a standardized test is more important than teaching children how to become productive citizens.
As a teacher and now as a parent, I understand the necessity of standardized testing for finding a normalized scale by which to measure a student's knowledge. But measuring aptitude goes so far beyond the institutionalized tests that its importance is lost among the data being collected on our students. No longer are teachers and administrators allowed to teach to the child's ability; rather, they are required to teach to the standard's median. Unless your child is lucky enough to be enrolled in a school where their talents or struggles are recognized, they're probably in a classroom where the teacher is teaching to the "middle ground."
I happen to be lucky enough to live in a school zone where my daughter was recognized as being Gifted and Talented and is being taught accordingly. In any other neighboring school, she would have been tested for Gifted aptitude, placed into a normal, median classroom, and pulled out from class once a week to receive Gifted services (whatever that means). Fortunately, my daughter's school has a program for children like her where the Gifted and Talented students are in a self-contained class with a certified Gifted teacher who is specially trained for educating children with special needs.
This is not the norm.
The norm is that the majority of students are in a normalized classroom, being taught normalized curriculum developed around the state's standardized test. The curriculum in my state of Florida is so closely tied to the standardized test, FCAT, that nearly every one of the textbooks and materials is marked with something akin to "FCAT Prep," indicating that this lesson is meant to help prepare students for the test.
All of this "teaching to the test" has taken our educational system away from encouraging children to be just that: children. Instead of fostering imagination, the school system is fostering test-taking skills. As Vanity Fair columnist, A. A. Gill, points out in his recent article Schools Are Ruining Our Kids, stress of passing standardized tests is ruining our children's childhoods.
In the 100 years since we really got serious about education as a universally good idea, we've managed to take the 15 years of children's lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure.
There is no quick solution or even an extensive solution I could offer. But as a former teacher and a current mother, I'd like to see my children foster a love of self rather than a fear of assessment.