Education system’s focus should be on developing creative thinkers, not state testing

Sometime over the next month we will learn the results of last year’s state testing in each of Calhoun County’s schools. The schools know that information already, but for some reason I can’t explain, the state holds an embargo over the results prohibiting them from releasing them to the public.

The only reasoning I can come up with for not releasing them to the public once their known is to allow a school district some time for an appeal if they feel there is some error in the scores, or to allow the districts time to formulate some strategy as to how they report the information to the public in the instance that it’s not flattering.

Whenever they release those results, as I’ve written before, I won’t put a great deal of stock in them because I’m not a believer in the system. How students perform on a specific standardized test simply isn’t a be-all-end-all barometer for me to evaluate a school, its teachers, principal, or a school district administration.
I find the process incredibly flawed and not in the best interest of the students. It appears to me, this method of standardized testing is more about the state trying to find a means of evaluating teachers and administrators rather than focusing on what’s best for the students.

The process promotes school districts all over this state aligning everything they do with state testing. Simply put– nothing else matters.
That’s evident in our school district here in Calhoun County where I continue to contend we are doing nothing more than teaching the test. By “teaching the test,” I don’t mean we’re literally teaching the same standardized test over and over, but rather every function and focus of school is built around state testing rather than providing the best education possible.

I was in attendance of a chamber of commerce meeting when a principal in this county said, “I hate to say we’re just making robots, but that’s what we’re doing sometimes. That’s what the system requires of us. We’ve got to spend so much time teaching the tests, rather than teaching everyday skills.”
We have schools in this district that pull teachers out of their regular classrooms, leaving those students with a substitute or aide, so they can tutor other grades for state tests.

After a previous column in which I made the case our focus should be producing better educated students rather than better test takers, a principal in this county laughed to my face.
I would laugh too, if I didn’t find the system so discouraging.
I believe there are significant aspects of learning and a well-rounded education that simply can’t be crammed into a multiple choice question.

Not too long ago I read a story in the Business Insider that pointed out that Google, a good representation of the modern business world, has devalued SAT scores and GPAs when evaluating prospective employees.
Creative thinking is more valued in today’s workforce than test scores. We all know people who were straight A students in school (great test takers) who don’t have sense enough to get out of the rain. Likewise, we also know people who struggled in school, but are brilliant in the real world.

Tony Wagner, a Harvard education specialist, recently stated “the goal of education today,  should not be to make every child ‘college ready’ but ‘innovation ready.’”
That translates to– it doesn’t matter as much what you know, but what you can do with what you know. That’s creative/critical thinking and is now in demand, but that is not sparked in young minds by a standardized test.
One of Wagner’s best quotes, which I read in a Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times, stated “The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’”

I don’t believe we are delivering these skills to our youth through the standardized testing model.
The best education is broad in scope and evokes student creativity. Our current system is laser focused on only one thing – state testing.
So when they do release the new scores showing this school did great last year and this school didn’t, this one’s up this time and the other’s down, what will that really mean regarding the education of our youth?
I don’t know, and I’m not certain anyone else does either.

Email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece