Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tests are the Bestest

I love teaching.  Learning is fascinating and guiding through others in the process is a honest joy.  Education should and could be one of the best parts of growing up but it is being suffocated by those who want to make it a controlled process rather than the inherently organic system it is.  I asked the internet the other day "Why can't I learn algebra?" and found enough interesting answers to get the rusty gears turning.  People could not even explain why they did not understand the subject for it was so obtuse to their line of thinking.  They had demonstrated problem solving through their writing or had successful careers and so they had the honest question of why they were forced to learn something that they never understood and so clearly aided little in their development.  Math is a growing field and we have found a way to apply it everywhere we can because it provides evidence to our arguments and makes us more confident in our decisions; moreover, computers only make choices based on logical progressions, though those are designed by people.  I have students who can grasp programming logic as if it is second nature but struggle mightily to solve an equation.  They think they are bad at math but I see them demonstrating and making use of calculated and formal decision making, finding patterns, and solving a problem.  If that ain't math, then I don't know what is.  Really, what is math?  My favorite thing to hear from a student is that, "It makes me think so hard." I know I have had some measure of success and he or she is gaining the real key from the study (at the level I teach).  I could have them make and design all kinds of cool stuff that allow them to have a purpose for thinking so hard.  I could try to guide a discussion on infinite and nothingness and all that would entail, or try to make sense of transcendental numbers but I need to make them learn how to find out how long it will take John to paint a house if he and Bob usually can do it in 7 hours and Bob can do it in 28 hours. Why? It could be on a standardized tests.  ETS, a non-profit, had a revenue of over $1,000,000,000 last year.  The largest component of education reform is standardized tests.  Kids in middle school are forced to stress out all year and then take two weeks of tests that determine their worth.  Later on, they are forced to believe that the ACT/SAT is the most crucial element for getting into college because all those grades mean so little.  There are many studies that don't support this, Geiser and Santelices have an excellent study.  Grades are the most important predictors of college success, followed by subject tests.  Those tests are focused and allow the student to demonstrate his or her strengths.  One going into the liberal arts needs to be able to write and one into STEM needs to be able to add.  Grades show a greater body of work as well as a student's work ethic.
At this time, we have models in other countries of better education systems that don't use testing.  The education communities are constantly proving that we need to foster real growth and learning for the best success but it falls on deaf ears.  Your tax dollars pay for people with PhD's to find the best solutions but those results are not use because someone else paid legislators for a different solution.  I want the smartest people solving the hardest problems, not the richest.
I got lost somewhere in this train of thought but it is a question I am still working with.  I believe all students can learn math and can find value in the subject but algebra is not the only math out there.  Even as a math, it is a toolbox and not an end.
- to be continued.
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