Hanna Skandera tells us, in a recent Albuquerque Journal guest editorial, what should have been an inspirational and heart-warming story about her glory days in track, when she trained for months for that one big cross-country race at the end. She came in second. It’s implied that the rest of them were ranked-and-filed as, I assume, winners and losers?
There are two important differences between cross-country and standardized tests that make Hanna’s remarks fall completely flat of an actual argument.
First, academics and cognitive development are not cross-country. She trained so hard because she chose to accept the challenge of winning a race. Our kids are not all like that, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Learning is not a race; learning is a process. Learning is not a competition; learning is a quest.
And, most importantly, learning is not what we do just because there’s a really big test at the end.
Second, Hanna stated that kids who are prepared to take a test do just fine. and kids who are not prepared are filled with anxiety and worry. She's right. The point she’s trying to make is that kids in New Mexico have been practicing for this big test for months and months. That, right there, is disturbing enough. That’s not what school is for.
Also, the fact that our tests this year are not aligned to the standards that have been taught, the fact that teachers and others have no idea what those tests look like, and the fact that there is no way to practice and study for these tests—as Hanna did for her cross-country tournament—makes this argument false and, to be frank, kind of silly.
And, yes, there is very real stress and anxiety in our children, even the very young ones.
There are tests in the real world, to be sure. Real tests. Tests of courage, tests of character, tests of judgment, and even the occasional test about a job. Very few, if any, will resemble a six-to-thirteen-hour computerized or paper-and-pencil test that our kids have to endure during their school years.
No career path cares what our kids’ state test scores are. Colleges and universities don’t care either. If the state tests are the finish line for our kids every year, and if the SAT/ACT is the only important finish line for our graduates, then we have forgotten what education should be.