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Play Teaching to the Test

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A 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy who wanted to play school managed to order a batch of the state’s standardized assessment tests, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. State education officials were apparently in disbelief. “Only the school district’s test coordinator can order tests,” said the State Education Department’s spokesperson. “It’s a very secure system.”

Well, maybe not: By reports, the boy simply faxed an order to the test-production company from his house, using two special codes he got from the education department’s Web site. The tests, however, were mailed to his school district’s warehouse rather than to the boy’s home—a measure that officials say validates the system’s safeguards.

Officials in the boy’s district are confident that he was simply exercising his imagination and not attempting to cheat. “He purposely requested the tests to come on the last day [of testing] because he didn’t want to see the test before he took it,” said Rebecca Costello, director of pupil services for the Hempfield School District. “He wants to be a teacher. He wanted to play school.”

In any case, Costello added, the education department has indicated “they will look at [their] Web site because they may have an issue.”

Meanwhile, we are left to wonder: Does it say something about schools today that a kid who wants to play teacher thinks he needs to have authentic standardized tests on hand?

Update 4/27/09: Nancy Flanagan, who has taught hundreds of 5th grade boys over the course of her career, explains that there are other possible ways to interpret this story.

3 Comments

What does this say about what we think school is about and especially what the future teachers of America feel school is about...??

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to homeschool one of my daughters for one year during which time we got involved with a group of over a hundred homeschooling families of diverse backgrounds. The activities and projects we collaborated on were worthwhile and engaging, and the children in this group were inclusive, articulate, and in particular, interested in learning rather than earning grades as the point of school.

On the other hand, I see my daughters in public school getting tested more and more often; and I see myself, working on another college degree toward becoming a math teacher, as becoming more focused on grades (both theirs and mine) than on what we all are learning and I wonder how it could be different.

This says exactly what students think and feel about school. That they only go to school to take test, what they learn is what is on the test. Everything else is like busy work.

Students are being coached, counseled, and primed to feel upbeat and positive about testing; when they are not. I asked a young student how he thought school could be different and he said, he felt that once the testing was over they should get to play and learn more about science as well as have art. This just broke my heart.

In business what is important is measured - customer satisfaction, costs, profits, losses, spoilage, efficiency and others depending on the business. The most likely perspective of students is that I will learn what I'm going to be tested on if I want to be successful in school, and I will spend energy on other academic, cultural, sports, or family endevors that are of interest to me.

It seems that it is a very logical approach, and is not to be bemoaned. We just need to elicit that interest by offering a broad spectrum of opportunities to pique the child's curiosity as the child matures.

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