"Raise children, rather than test scores"

Nice op-ed piece today by the director of Williams College’s teaching program calling for the replacement of America’s test-centric curriculum with “a curriculum designed to raise children, rather than test scores”:

[D]evelopmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does…

[C]hildren [sh]ould spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often…. Children [sh]ould also spend an hour a day writing things that have actual meaning to them — stories, newspaper articles, captions for cartoons, letters to one another. People write best when they use writing to think and to communicate, rather than to get a good grade…

[T]eachers should spend time each day having sustained conversations with small groups of children. Such conversations give children a chance to support their views with evidence, change their minds and use questions as a way to learn more…

[C]hildren learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.

A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate.

No Child Left Behind conflicts violently with what educational researchers find to be optimal for child development. NCLB tests, tests, and tests a shockingly narrow set of knowledge and skills. The tests are not designed to help children learn from their mistakes. And they cover such a narrow range of knowledge that teaching to the tests sucks the fun out of learning. And school districts' obsession with high scores has led to the elimination of music, art, and history/social studies at tens of thousands of schools.

Posted by James on Tuesday, February 02, 2010