In a commentary in today’s North County Times, Stephen D. Aloia, Associate Professor of Education at California State University, Fullerton, writes that one of the reasons teachers give so much homework is that they spend so much time on test prep that they don’t have time to teach. With his permission, here’s what he has to say:
State Standards Measure Wrong Things
by Stephen D. Aloia
Research shows that schools spend one day per week testing and preparing kids for tests.
No wonder we give so much homework. There’s no time left to teach. Tests cost money, take up teaching time, cause teachers to “teach to the tests” and give administrators ulcers. And tests cause students and parents to go off the deep end worrying about the wrong things.
Every year, our children are subjected to a number of tests that are supposed to help us determine the wellness of both our students and our schooling system. For purposes of space (and to avoid boredom), just the abbreviations will be used herein. There’s the API, AYP, PI, STAR tests, Exit Exam (CAHSEE), CAPA, CELDT, EAP, PFT, CHSPE, CAT/6, STS, NASP, GED, SAT, ACT, and perhaps a few others. (See the State of California Web site, www.cde.ca.gov/ta, for details of each test.) Not every student takes every test, but you get the point —- too many tests!
Sadly, these tests fail to assess the most important things about which schools are supposed to teach, but don’t. Tests tell us who can write well, think critically (it doesn’t matter about what, as long as it is critical thinking), calculate some fancy equation (that they will never use for the rest of their lives), and in some cases even tell us if our children know something about our own past —- our U.S. history (not social studies).
But we have no state standards nor tests that address the most important things in life, such as the importance of compassion, honesty, integrity, sincerity, patience, persistence, effort, fairness, justice, temperance, fortitude, courage, faith, hope, charity, magnanimity, trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courtesy, kindness, cheerfulness, cleanliness, reverence, thrift, bravery and obedience.
Our state standards fail to address respect, humility, admiration of that which is admirable, forgiveness and understanding, remorse for wrong actions and so many other attributes of the truly good person. And we never begin to assess self-discipline, the catalyst for success.
These are basically the common virtues that Aristotle described as the defining characteristics of the people who make up a good society. These are the values of The Republic, as discussed by Plato. These are the civic virtues that Alexis de Tocqueville used to define America as the greatest nation on earth.
In Democracy in America (1835), de Tocqueville realized that not only was America the most charitable nation in the world, but that Americans practiced these virtues on a daily basis. He believed that the strength of America, and the very reason why democracy worked so well in America was because each citizen believed in these civic values, which were taught in the schools and reinforced on Sunday in every little white-steepled church that dotted our fruited plains.
These are the values of the heroic ideal, of the good spouse, the good neighbor and the good citizen. Perhaps we have our state standards pointing us in the wrong direction. Perhaps our schools need to re-examine their priorities.