The testing trend sweeping the nation has
its roots in real problems in schools. Children are not succeeding,
sometimes due to low expectations on the part of teachers. Certainly,
schools need to be accountable.
| Susan Dermond
However, the extreme emphasis presently being put on measuring
success only in terms of academic outcomes is alarming to many educators.
Tests measure ever smaller, more incomprehensible bits of knowledge
out of context.
Research has shown that ability to score high on tests is not a
predictor of success in life, whether that success is measured on
the scale of material prosperity (future salary earned), or the
much more important scale of happiness, health, or peace of mind.
Rather, scoring high on tests is a predictor of only one outcome,
and that is the ability to make good grades in college and to score
high on other tests!
In college I had a friend whose major was in a different field
from my own. She was consistently making Cs on tests
in one course. The teacher advised her that she needed to consult
published research. She spent hours in the library searching for
the needed research to no avail. When asked why she didnt
just ask a librarian for help, she admitted that she would be mortified
to admit that she didnt already know how to find this research
in her major field! Due to her lack of self-confidence she continued
to make C's rather than get the help she needed.
I thought about my friend years later when I took a group of sixth-graders
to get ice cream. After the group had their complicated order of
flavors and toppings filled and we were on our way out the door,
one of my students came to me and said, These candies are
awful. Do you think theyll scrape them off and give me gummy
I doubt it, I shrugged.
Ill ask, Sarita replied.
In amazement I watched as she strode purposely up to the counter
and explained that the candies tasted stale and she wanted them
replaced. I had never seen an eleven-year-old more supremely confident
that she could ask for and get what she wanted. Of course, the employee
complied. In this childs future it really doesnt matter
what she knows or doesnt know. She has the self-assuredness
to find out what she needs!
Which is a better predictor of future success: knowing the answers
on a standardized test or having the confidence to ask questions
and take risks? A basic level of literacy is essential, of course,
but creative problem solving ability and ability to get along with
people and work in a team are as important to achieving ones
goals as is knowledge of a particular field.
Certainly, I am not advocating throwing out testing altogether.
Some limited testing of reading and computational skills is necessary
to be sure children are getting basic instruction and progressing
at a reasonable pace.
But in my mind a teachers ability to foster self-esteem,
self-confidence, integration of mind, body, and spirit, and skills
of cooperation and living in harmony with others, far exceeds the
importance of test scores. If I were a parent considering placing
my child in a new teachers class, I would ask the following
- Is there enthusiasm in the classroom about learning new
- Are the students helpful toward each other, and do they praise
each others efforts (following the teachers example)
or are they fearful, overly competitive, and so insecure they
resort to belittling others?
- Does the teacher smile and make eye contact with every child
several times daily?
- Does the teacher recognize and honor strengths such as kindness,
sensitivity, artistic expression, ability to cooperate with others,
and originality of thought? Or are only academic achievements
- Are children who are physical and have high energy levels given
channels to express their need for kinesthetic expression, or
are they made to feel inferior because they have difficulty being
- Are students focused and on task, but also relaxed and able
to move about quietly?
- When the teacher tells the children to do something or not to
do something, do they have enough respect to follow instructions,
and if they dont, does the teacher ignore them or follow
If we all jump on the bandwagon of evaluating teachers primarily
by the test scores their students receive, we are supporting a system
that ultimately will judge the childrens worth in the same
terms. We must ask other questions about what the teachers bring
to the classroom if we want administrators and legislators to know
that we take the values imparted in the classroom as seriously as
Susan Dermond is the Director of the Living Wisdom School (K-5),
and a minister of Ananda Sangha. For more information about the
Living Wisdom School, call (503) 671-9112.