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We Are So Behind, Not Just on Test Scores

Red apple on chalkboard
Photograph by ThinkStock

The nation with the highest test scores wins, right? Wrong. The nation that teaches the whole child wins, if you ask me.

Test scores are just numbers on a page. I've lost count of how many children and adolescents I have treated for test anxiety during the past 15 years, but I can tell you that it affects kids from all different schools (public, private, you name it) and at all different ages. Some kids freeze upon hearing "begin" during a timed test. Some kids panic when they flip through the entire test and see how many questions they need to tackle. Some study for days only to "forget" everything the minute they sit down. It can happen during standardized tests, it can happen during quizzes and tests, and it can happen during oral exams.

Some kids have a hard time with tests.

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At the end of the day, numbers are just numbers. Yes, averages and data can be useful, but they don't tell the complete story.

I'm a believer in learning from other schools, other districts and other nations. Instead of focusing on the win, I believe in finding ways to improve our schools by learning from others.

Finland made headlines recently after announcing upcoming education reform. Under the National Curriculum Framework, schools will implement at least one extended period of multi-disciplinary, phenomenon-based teaching and learning. Students will also have a voice in planning and assessing these study periods. Imagine that? During at least one period of the day, students have a voice in what they learn. That's life changing.

Despite declining test scores in on international tests, educators in Finland believe that schools should teach kids what they actually need to learn instead of simply teaching to improve tests scores.

They also want learning to be more meaningful.

Reduced pressure to bring in the top scores certainly provides the educators a better climate for teaching. Yes, they will continue to teach subjects (despite some headlines stating the opposite), but they also teach the kids real world issues and help them find their strengths.

In this kind of a learning environment, my daughter would have the opportunity to channel her creativity into her work instead of constantly being told to answer the questions first and add the artwork if time allows. In this kind of environment she could learn to merge the two and put it all together.

While no two nations are the same, and it isn't fair to make direct comparisons, we can learn from other educators to make improvements in our own schools.

In the latest report from Defending the Early Years (DEY), Lilian Katz, Ph.D, addresses the importance of setting appropriate goals for preschool and kindergarten students.

"An appropriate curriculum for young children is one that includes the focus on supporting children's in-born intellectual dispositions, their natural inclinations," Katz explains. Young children need a wide variety of opportunities and experiences within the context of learning. "I suggest that early childhood curriculum and teaching methods are likely to be best when they address children's lively minds so that they are quite frequently fully intellectually engaged," says Katz.

A kindergarten program in Tokyo did just that. With a rooftop circular playground (because 5- and 6-year-olds love to run in circles) and a single, continuous classroom in place to allow for movement, it's designed to harness the curiosity and energy that comes naturally to young learners. They also engage in healthy risk-taking and (gasp) silliness.

Imagine that?

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Nothing is ever perfect, and all educational systems need reform at times. While scores might help us find areas of weakness, I think we need to move toward a whole child approach (really, not just on paper) if we want our children to succeed in the world. And that begins with taking back childhood, setting developmentally appropriate educational goals and meeting our students where they are in the learning process.

To do all of that, we need to stop competing and start taking notes.

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