Testing in Schools Detracts From Our Children’s Education

When the mayor of America’s largest city is ecstatic that 38 percent of New York City students passed the Common Core test for English, we have a problem. From a different perspective, 62 percent of NYC students failed the English competency exam. And Mayor DeBlasio considered those results a success?

Mr. DeBlasio’s reaction to the Common Core test scores is reported in the article, “If Test Scores Go Up Did Education Improve,” written by renowned educator, Alan Singer, and published by the Huffington Post on August 1, 2016.

The assertion that we have a problem is mine.

I take care to look at any issue from all sides. As a businesswoman, a member of a number of director boards and advisory committees, and a mom, I’m patient and neither form nor express an opinion until I’m confident I understand the ‘full’ story and the bigger picture.

With that said, I firmly believe that the emphasis on standardized testing in our schools occurs at the expense of our children’s learning. The quantity and influence of tests does not enhance our children’s education; rather it limits their potential. To be clear, I don’t fault the teachers. They are under extreme pressures, administrative and fiscal, to see to it that students perform well on the tests. They must, therefore, shortchange true education in the classroom in order spend an inordinate amount of time working with students on both test content knowledge and test-taking skills specific to standardized tests.  Their hands are tied.

My point is that we need to revise how we evaluate the quality of education in the United States.  Our current system is failing our children. The irony is that even the scores on the standardized tests prove the system is failing.

Testing, specifically Common Core, is a national issue with global relevance, considering the youth of today will be tomorrow’s world leaders. It’s not something we can fix overnight, nor do we have much latitude to create change from the local level.

But what we must not forget is that we can initiate change from the bottom up.

This is a discussion that I’m personally passionate about. I believe education affects every person in our city, state, and country. Parents are concerned about the quality of their children’s education; non-parents are concerned about how their education tax dollars are allocated. And all of us are concerned about how our society will evolve. Or at least we should be.

Identifying the problem is only the first step. Proposing solutions and implementing effective change is the real work.  Although reforming education will require an enormous amount of time, energy and commitment, it should be one of our community’s top priorities.

I have compiled some thoughts on education and changes that I believe are necessary. Many of these ideas are pulled directly from Creative Schools, by Ken Robinson, PhD. Robinson is, according to his bio, “a leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business.” He has consulted for governments, business, and cultural organizations around the world on learning and creativity. Robinson voices his opinions about education in one of the most watched TED Talks ever, Do Schools Kill Creativity?  Below, I have paraphrased some of the points he makes, and added a few of my own perspectives.

  • Robinson states that the system itself is the problem, because standardization by its very nature suppresses individuality, imagination and creativity. The system instead should strive to ignite students’ desire to learn, embrace and encourage students’ individual interests and abilities, and bolster students’ confidence in their own strengths.
  • Robinson points out that the amount of time lost to testing in the classroom is enormous. The Federal Government mandates proficient or better scores on fourteen reading and math standardized tests per year, more than twice the number of tests required fifteen years ago. This represents a serious imbalance. Teaching and learning – rather than prolific government testing – should be top priorities in our schools. Robinson suggests that this change could come from the top down.
  • Robinson thinks each school community should invest some time and thought identifying the qualities of an ideal graduate. What should that graduate know? How can he or she apply that knowledge? I would add to Robinson’s questions a couple of my own: how can true learning help that graduate best tap into his/her potential? How can he/she be equipped to become a productive member of society? Robinson challenges schools and teachers, as well as parents, to create the questions that drive strategic thinking and planning. This could happen from the ground up at the local level.
  • Schools should, of course, be subject to accountability – but Robinson argues that accountability should not be based exclusively on standardized test scores. While assessment is a necessary component of teaching and learning, it should support student achievement. Productive assessment should motivate students to do well by offering constructive feedback to help them understand and self-inspire.

While we’re on the subject, I’ll share a couple of my own thoughts about what learning is – and is not. True learning is not accumulating facts and formulas. Curiosity and motivation are necessary for true learning. It doesn’t occur in a finite time frame, all at once, but rather it is a process – a work in progress. Knowledge and understanding build on previously acquired information and experience.

Circling back to the article, “If Test Scores Go Up Did Education Improve,” I’m dismayed by the notion that meeting the needs of only one-third of our students could be considered a win. This highlights a major problem in education today. The stakes are high and we can do better.  The solutions aren’t yet clear, but I’m diving in to learn, to collaborate, and to consider all viable new approaches.

Please check back in. I’m passionate about education and how we can support our educators in order for them to teach our kids in the most effective way. I will be writing more on the local approach to test taking and opportunities to further improve the process and the outcome.

Further Resources:

Ted Robinson’s TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

U.S. Department of Education, Fact Sheet: Testing Action Plan (October 2015)

Creative Schools (2015), by Ted Robinson

If Test Scores Go Up Did Education Improve?” by Alan Singer, Huffington Post, August 2016


  • Kory

    Thank you for the great information Melissa! I completely agree with you on the fluid nature of education and that the best educations are those where students are motivated to creatively think and problem solve on their own – not just a recitation of facts that can be read in any text book.

  • Tom Dahmer

    Why do Asian students, graduates of EL-HI programs that emphasise rote learning and memorisation, so consistently outperform American students who typically learn using less rigid approaches?

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