Square Pegs in Round Holes: The Problem With Standardized Testing

Nov 15, 2013 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The school year is well under way; children seem to be passing all their subjects, and parents breathe a sigh of relief. What more can you ask for, right?

Plenty if you're concerned about their future educational growth. This is the perfect time to think, at leisure, about your child's education and the process of learning. Begin by asking yourself these questions.

Your children are passing so far this year, but are they really learning anything? Is their curiosity being satisfied; are they being educated or merely "taught?" There is a huge difference. Learning is retention; being taught is simply test-taking.

These are important questions with ambiguous answers because the learning process in public education is tantamount to fitting square pegs into round holes. It can be done but not successfully.

As an educator, my primary goal has always been to make the lessons interesting and memorable. Learning is a process that should contain curiosity and a sense of satisfaction in personal accomplishment.

Public education has always had the potential to be a great service, but it is a relatively new idea. It is only since 1870, that all states in the USA are required to provide free elementary schooling to all children.

But the word "public" means "for the general population." Your child, like every other one, must pass a certain criteria of planned generalized curricula. Sometimes the lessons are planned simply for the sake of test-taking and raising the percentage of passing students in a single school district. This isn't learning nor is it challenging. Teachers are working hard to help your children learn; they want to teach. But they are under a dictum called standardized testing which means for many that they must "teach to the test." This form of teaching also does not adjust the test material to reflect geographic, socioeconomic or other differences.

Anyone can learn to pass tests but that isn't the real definition of education. Retention of material is the true definition. It is the difference between being taught and being educated. If a child is taught what to study for a test, she will pass it. But if she can remember what she learned two weeks later or apply it logically, then she has been educated.

How can you help your child become educated? This year, there are some things you can and should consider for future reference and some things you can do right now.

Be aware of what the curricula is offered in his or her school. Is it well diversified; is passing tests the only criteria for passing grades? Are the various disciplines interconnected, in other words, did what your child learn in a social studies class on the American Revolution relate to prose from that same time period in a language arts class?

There is an innate curiosity in all children that begins at birth, not when they are put in school. While excellent teachers are a necessary part of your child's education you are your child's best educator. Encourage your child in the arts. Music, art, dance, a world language -- all are known to contribute to a child's intellectual growth. They teach critical thinking. Read with your child and make reading a habit. Reading encourages imagination and studies have shown that inventors are great readers.

Encourage your child's interests and abilities. Satisfy their curiosity, supplement their education; make learning a lifelong joy.

Square pegs in round holes? Doesn't work for puzzles and definitely not in education.

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