Volusia County Schools Should Reconsider Testing

The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an article today about the extreme testing students in Volusia county public schools undergo in comparison to neighboring counties.

Overall the article focuses on whether Volusia county should scale back some of its testing so that it’s more in line with other counties.  Some members of the Volusia county school board were unawares of the excessive testing that existed in Volusia county:

Reached by phone Thursday, Linda Cuthbert, who mentioned a desire to reduce testing during closing comments of a recent board meeting, said she didn’t realize how out of line Volusia was compared with other counties.

“We need to look at that,” she said. “I think we could cut that in half. But it needs to be done so that we still serve our students to the best of our abilities.”

School Board chairwoman Ida Wright made similar comments.

“We didn’t have as much testing 15 years ago and students performed, if not better,” she said. “Excessive testing has yet to prove that it really benefits students.”

Given the stress students (and teachers, parents, administrators, public officials, and anyone whose lives are directly impacted and/or judged by the results of these tests) experience in connection with testing and the high-stakes wagers we are collectively placing on their outcomes, this would be a great time to reconsider the notion of testing all together.  Of course, given legal requirements, this can only be a thought experiment – for now.  But it is one worth considering.  After all, nothing is as powerful as a good idea whose time has come.

To suggest that testing be eliminated all together seems so radical that most tune out without giving it a moment’s consideration.  That is an understandable response to strongly held beliefs about the supposed importance of testing.  However evidence suggests that testing reveals nothing about student potential but rather erodes and distorts the naturally high-image teachers have of their students.  The work of education researcher Sugatra Mitra suggests that young people learn quickly without prodding or testing when given access to educational tools and the opportunity to let their curiosity roam freely.  Perhaps it is time we retire a model of education based on a Pavlovian theory of human behavior which believes we can be trained like pigeons (and will lead to robot teachers) and embrace one that recognizes we are intrinsically motivated to learn about the world and that this natural process (which as of yet cannot be explained) is thwarted by efforts to coerce, control or measure it.

It is at least worth a few minutes to ponder an education model without testing.  After all, cognitive neuroscientists armed with the latest high-tech imaging technology are still baffled by such basic things as how we learn to read.  If the brightest minds in the world cannot explain how we learn to read, then why do we believe we can judge young people so harshly and definitively on their progress?  Why are Floridians putting so much at stake on a test only recently developed for another state?  Perhaps we should just give our young people the time and the opportunity to do what they do naturally given a supportive environment, access to learning material, and good role models who are there to help when called upon.

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