Testing Doesn’t Leave Room for Teaching

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.

5 Comments on “Testing Doesn’t Leave Room for Teaching”

  1. Harold Jarche says:

    Testing takes away from teaching, but I would go one step further and say that teaching takes away from learning. The learner needs time to internalize new knowledge and skills.

    Our society still cannot agree on the purpose of education, so we keep bouncing from one flawed implementation to the next:
    http://www.jarche.com/?p=676

    December 11th, 2006 at 10:16 pm
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  2. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    I agree that over testing is depriving our children of time that could be spent on more productive learning. I do not think, though, that those ideals you list as “the most important things in life” have anything to do with education. Those things come from a decent upbringing. Those are values learned from families.

    If students could really perform strongly on the things you say are tested, that they “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)”, then I would be thrilled. Sadly, I think students aren’t learning those things.

    December 13th, 2006 at 9:59 am
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  3. Anonymous says:

    I have heard character is “the parent’s job” too often. Doesn’t it occur to anyone that there are parents who are not up to the job. Do you let their kids–and there are many of them fall through the cracks. Don’t those kids matter?

    Even is a parent is a pro at ethics couldn’t they use some reinforcement from the school. If you teach your child to respect authority and the school allows kids to disrespect teachers what does that teach the child?

    The only reason I can guess why a parent would want to be the only one allowed to instruct on morality is they want their kids to have an advantage over other children or they believe honesty, integrity, etc. are a matter of personal choice.

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse so why do we try to keep the law and how to live up to it a secret? We teach basic morality in kindergarten–stay in your own square, keep your hands to yourself and share. Then this type of training stops and doesn’t pick up again until college ethics classes.

    I think it is a shame we don’t help more kids learn how to fit in to our society. We can’t keep building more prisons to hold all the people who don’t even know what they don’t know.

    December 22nd, 2006 at 10:34 pm
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  4. Amy Rose says:

    I am so glad to see this website. I am from Missouri, and just like many other states, our testing is getting out of control. I left teaching 7 years ago to stay home w/ our first born and open a daycare. He now is in 1st grade and I am amazed at how much his YOUNG teacher teaches to the test. Everything he needed to learn was in kindergarten!

    My question to anyone w/ ideas….How do I go about making changes? I refused to teach to the test 7 years ago, and hate that some teachers won’t!

    April 4th, 2007 at 3:29 pm
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    October 8th, 2007 at 3:19 am
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