Prioritizing Testing Over Learning: A Recipe for Failure

In my experience, implementing Common Core Standards has provided multiple benefits. First, I was able to find out what my child was expected to learn by the end of the school year. Second, I was able to keep track of Katie’s progress relative to expectations.

Third, I was able to provide remediation. I was told that Katie was advanced in her writing, but because of the Common Core Standards posted online for everyone to see, I was able to easily figure out that Katie wasn’t performing on par with the sample writing provided in the Common Core Standards document. She might be advanced in her class but still behind Common Core expectations. Once I found out that Katie was behind in writing, I purchased a program called Strategies for Writers and we have been working on improving her writing skills.

Fourth, Common Core makes transferring to another school easier. Katie will be moving to a LAUSD institution that offers a Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program for first grade. Since both schools follow the same standards, I know what skills the new school are expecting Katie to have learned in Kindergarten.

Fifth, the standards for Math has been raised for the majority of the states who adopted it. When I compare the Common Core Standards in Math for K-8 with the math skills that I was taught as a student in the Philippines, I was taught at a higher level than the Common Core Standards. It would have been even worse before Common Core.

Sixth, application of math problems is emphasized at the very beginning of formal education, in Kindergarten. Getting the right answers through memorization is good, but getting the answers right and being able to apply them in the real world is even better.

Seventh, there is a lot of writing involved in Common Core. Kids are expected to write across the curriculum which I think is a great preparation for college and career. When I went to college, I did a lot of writing. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of writing involved at all, and I struggled a lot with writing the laboratory reports, and with the papers for numerous Social Science classes. Since I lacked practice in writing papers, I spent more time on it than I would have if I were used to writing before I enter college. I used multiple tricks such as increasing the space between lines and increasing the font size to make it look like my paper was long enough. Good thing Katie is learning how to write properly.

All of the points that I have discussed above lead to learning. However, the materials that were provided to Katie in school emphasized getting the kids ready to take the SBAC test when they enter third grade. Most of the materials in Math are multiple choice. I think kids need to have great foundation in Math. What they learn in kindergarten will be required in order to learn new concepts. The Common Core Standards do not state the form that worksheets and tests must take. It is the textbook publisher’s decision to present the questions as multiple choice.

Another reason why I think that testing is prioritized over learning is that Katie has to do the exact same worksheets twice: once at home and again at school. I think the main purpose of tests should be to gauge what one has learned. If kids can memorize the answers in order to get good grades, then grades are meaningless. I want to her to be able to apply what she learned in school in real life, not memorize questions and the answers to those questions. I studied in a Chinese School for nine years. I was great at testing. However, even after spending nine years going to Chinese classes, it is quite sad that I do not speak nor comprehend Chinese. At the first Chinese School I went to, I always got great grades in my Chinese classes, and I achieved those grades by memorizing the questions and answers, without understanding them. When the time came to switch schools, the new school emphasized reading and listening comprehension, and my memorization technique could no longer be applied. I had to leave the school and moved to another school that did not teach Chinese.

Katie’s school has a spelling test every Friday for language arts. There are about seven words in the list. Tests are 55% of their total grade. So, even if a kid doesn’t learn anything else during the week and focuses on the spelling words, then chances are that they will get good grades if they get all of the spelling words right. The class practices the spelling words several times during the week in addition to giving multiple worksheets for the same spelling words as homework. Fortunately, Katie was taught phoneme segmentation when I was using the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Funnix Beginning Reading and Funnix 2 Program. Phoneme segmentation is the ability to break words into individual sounds. If Katie knows the sounds, then she can guess the spelling without memorizing multiple words. This is more efficient than memorizing individual spelling words, and since she doesn’t have to memorize regularly spelled words, she has more time to memorize irregular words. Irregular words are words that are spelled differently than they sound. For example, the word “was” is not pronounced the way it is spelled.

Lots of people are advocating the rejection of Common Core Standards. I think rejecting the standards will not make any difference as long as the school environment has a testing over learning mindset. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools and teachers are rated based on the standardized test scores, so unsurprisingly, kids were taught to the test. At the end of the day, the responsibility of educating my kids does not fall solely on the school or the teachers. That ultimate responsibility belongs to the parents. We are the first teachers. The school is there to partner with us.

I also want to point out that my daughter has a wonderful teacher, but prioritizing testing is quite normal at most schools. Even I make my first priority making sure that my daughter is able to pass her tests before we move on to other interesting lessons. As a parent, I cannot do anything about school practices, but I can make a huge difference in what and how my kids learn at home. From my experience so far, half an hour a day of one on one instruction makes a huge difference.

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