Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why I Don’t Use Twitter

I am asked quite often if I have a Twitter account, and when I say no, I usually get a sad “Oh, you poor thing” look. Once a young lady actually told me, “I understand. It’s probably a bit much for your generation.” She was right; using social media is sometimes a bit much for me, especially if I see little use for it. The options technology offers for connecting people is wonderful if you are one of those people who crave continuous contact with others. However, I am not one of those people who continuously talks on the phone, texts, tweets, checks Facebook, and sends email while they eat, exercise, shower, use the toilet, drive, shop, attend meetings, visit family, worship in church, and watch TV or a movie, but I understand that I am a relic of the past, and such behavior is now the norm in today’s society. For example, once in a restroom in the Atlanta airport, I heard a man scream from a stall for people to stop flushing the toilets because he could not hear the person he was talking with on his phone. That is taking technology a bit too far if you ask me, but of course, I come from a generation that grew up believing in independence, individuality and that certain private moments should remain private.

Nevertheless, in an effort to conform, I actually gave Twitter a try a while back, but I quickly determined it was not for me. It wasn’t the technology itself that proved to be frustrating, but rather the terminology used when tweeting. It was a major FAIL on my part to learn and understand the jargon and acronyms that play such an important role in communicating via Twitter. For the life of me, I could not figure out what terms and acronyms such as hash tag, twaffic, twalking, twishing, LOL, LMAO, TLC, and WTF meant. Thanks to Elvis, I was able to associate TLC with “tender loving care,” and with a little help from my kids I learned the meanings of LOL and LMAO. However, call it what you will, a generation gap or too much to handle or comprehend for an old man, the jargon and acronyms proved to be my undoing. Due to my interpretation or misinterpretation, I often found the terminology confusing, silly or even offensive, and that negatively impacted my Twitter experience.

For example, I could never quite figure out “hash tag.” I knew it had something to do with helping tweeters discover relevant posts, but other than that, I did not have a clue what it was or how it was supposed to be used. For me, it conjured visions of young people dancing with flowers intertwined with their long hair amid clouds of illegal smoke and psychedelic music. Of course, I knew it probably didn’t have anything to do with any of that, but the term was nonetheless a generational distraction for me.

Also, I found many terms to be outright silly. Every time I saw terms such as “twaffic,” or “twalking,” I completely lost focus on the tweeted message, and in my mind heard Elmer Fudd from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons speaking. Another term that I thought silly as well as confusing and misleading was “twishing.” I couldn’t help but wonder if “twishing” was anything like Miley Cyrus’s “twerking,” or was it simply Elmer Fudd speaking up once again? I found the silliness to be disconcerting, and a deterrent to clear communication, which provided me a solid reason or excuse not to tweet.

Finally, I found some of the acronyms and terms to be outright offensive. One such acronym was “WTF.” I can’t believe that people use such an acronym. People should not be so mean and judgmental! It doesn’t matter if a person is talking, texting, or tweeting they should always be sensitive to the feelings of others. To hurt another person’s feelings and say or write, “Whoa, WTF” is just wrong! So what if a person is “Way too Fat,” that is that person’s business, and it should not be blasted across social media. For me, such insensitivity was the nail in the coffin for Twitter. It is far too easy to be mean to people when you don’t have to look them in the eye.

On a serious note, I have nothing against social media such as Twitter other than like all other social media, it lacks the human touch. In spite of its illusion of audience and connectivity, Twitter and other social media have become the tools of human isolation. The sad thing about all social media is that we never truly know if anyone is reading or listening, but the biggest flaw is that we never know if anyone really cares. The only way to ever know that is face to face, and that is precisely the problem with social media; it is an illusion of the real human connectivity that we all crave so much for in our lives. Social media is not a bad thing as long as people do not allow it to become a substitute for real face to face human interaction. Technology cannot replace the human touch, nor was it ever intended to do so; unfortunately, many people in today’s society are more in touch with their social media lives than they are with the lives of the ones who really do care about them – their family. The real reason I gave up Twitter had nothing to do with the technology, but I simply decided I did not need another social media distraction in my life. I am not saying people need to give up all social media, but is it really necessary to be connected to every social media tool out there? By cutting a social media umbilical cord or two, people might be surprised at some of the truly real human connections and experiences they have been missing.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 28, 2014

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Disciplining Children: A Parental Choice

How parents discipline their children should be a personal decision, but just about everyone has an opinion on the subject, which often leads to controversy that overshadows the will of the parent. Parents discipline their children out of love and a sincere belief they are teaching them the difference in right and wrong, to respect themselves and others, and that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior and bad decisions. They see discipline as a teachable moment that will lead to better choices and better behavior. Ultimately, by setting behavior parameters and holding children accountable to consequences for their actions, parents hope to enable their children to learn to discipline themselves as they grow into adulthood. However, getting to that point is often a struggle for even the very best parents.

Although parents understand discipline is a necessary part of teaching children how to interact positively and successfully with others, they often struggle with what kind of discipline they should use. Most parents tend to discipline their children the same way they were disciplined by their parents. If their parents used corporal punishment (i.e. spanking, a belt, or a switch), they tend to use corporal punishment with their own children. If they grew up in a home where corporal punishment was rarely or never used to address inappropriate behavior, they are less likely to use it with their own children. Parents who support corporal punishment believe when used with care and moderation it can be the most effective form of getting a child’s attention and reinforcing good behavior, but opponents of corporal punishment regard it as a form of child abuse that should not be tolerated. While proponents of corporal punishment agree that child abuse should not be tolerated, they also believe how a child is raised and disciplined is the parents’ personal business, and they take serious issue with anyone – family, friend, stranger, or media – trying to tell them how to raise and discipline their children.

Family feuds can start and friendships strained or ended when well-meaning relatives and friends offer parents unsolicited advice as to how to discipline their children. Heaven have mercy on meddling strangers who dare offer their two bits about discipline. Such interference is considered an intrusion into private family affairs, and nothing will bring about anger quicker, especially in the South, than an outsider interfering with family. How parents discipline their children is personal, and even those who struggle mightily with disciplining their children take offense to unwanted advice from outsiders. My father was such a parent.

If I had to describe my father’s parenting skills, I would have to say highly effective. I doubt very seriously if he ever read a book on parenting, but rather his parenting skills came from an innate primitive instinct; the kind that has been at the core of human existence since mothers first squatted in a bed of leaves to give birth and fathers carried clubs made of tree stumps to keep women and children in line and wild animals at bay. The same was true in my father’s house, except his club of choice was a leather belt used not only to keep his pants up, but to keep his children in line as well. His belt sometimes left tread marks across my deserving behind, but never anything that better choices and good behavior would not quickly heal and prevent in the future. Unlike my mother, he did not believe in repeated warnings to curve bad behavior. With my father there was “the look,” and if that did not suffice, next came the belt. He expected his children to know how to behave, and when they did not, he reinforced his expectations quickly and justly. He did not play games when it came to his children knowing how to act properly.

For example, when traveling with children, all parents have experienced hearing from the back seat “Are we there yet?” for the hundredth time, or ten minutes after pulling onto the interstate hearing Junior say, “I need to pee pee,” followed less than a minute later by big sister’s ear splintering scream, “Gross! Daddy, Junior got pee on my blanket!” If that is not bad enough, the unending adversarial yammering from the backseat will cause most adults to swear off ever getting into a car with anyone under age twenty-one again. There is little that can be done to make such situations bearable other than ear plugs and silently praying over and over, “This too shall pass, Lord. This too shall pass.” When you have kids, you learn to either endure what goes on in the backseat or stay at home.

My father would have taken exception to both enduring it and staying at home though. He enjoyed taking a family vacation to the Ozark Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, or the beach every summer, and he taught my sisters and me how to behave on long trips in the car. We could talk politely and quietly, as long as our voices did not rise to or above the songs of his boys – Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Ernest Tubb – wailing from the crackly AM radio in the front dash, and should we forget, Mama was allowed to warn us once to settle down. Being a patient man, my father would wait to see if her warning made a difference in our behavior; he could endure about twenty minutes of “combative yapping” from the backseat before he pulled off the side of the road and took off his belt. When he was finished, my sisters and I did not need to be strapped in our seats to be still (Our old Chevy did not have seatbelts anyway) or told to sit down and be quite again; we were very content to sit quietly and be “seen and not heard” for the remainder of the trip.

I am not saying my father’s way was the best way, but it worked, and it worked well. With the exception of potty training, which he left entirely to my mother, my father “ruled the roost” and if discipline was needed, he had one answer, a belt. His belt brought quick resolution to sibling squabbles, dishonesty, disrespect, getting in trouble at school, general obnoxious sassiness, and misbehavior in general. He was not afraid to “man-up” and mark his territory as the “alpha male” in the family. Some might say he was no better than the primitive parent swinging the tree stump, but I don’t believe he would have actually used a tree stump on us even if one had been handy. Nevertheless, my sisters and I knew better than to press our luck. As kids growing up in the sixties, we were not brave enough or fool enough to tempt him. Much like the primitive fathers thousands of years before him, my father ruled by “rank and order,” he had the rank and he gave the orders, and if you wanted to be able to sit comfortably, you did as you were told. Maybe there is something we can all learn from parents who love their children enough to mark their territory and establish and enforce the parameters of their endurance.

I understand fully that in today’s society my father would have been criminalized in the media as a barbaric child abuser, but other than the embarrassment of being scandalized for trying his best to be a good father, he would have cared less what society thought. His children grew up knowing there were boundaries and consequences for everything they did, and that in their father’s house “because I said so” was not a cop out, but a commandment to be respected and honored. Consequently, his children grew up loving and respecting him, and knowing he loved them and would always be there for them. That was all that mattered to him. He had little patience for anyone telling him how best to raise or discipline his kids. That was his job, and he took it very seriously.

Nevertheless, there are those who will argue the discipline administered by my father was abusive. On the other hand, there are also those who can argue that it is abusive to families and society in general to let children run rampantly out of control and undisciplined, but that is exactly what we are seeing more and more of in American culture. We have come to a place where parents are afraid to discipline their children for fear of being ostracized by society and branded a criminal by the media. Now I am not advocating taking a tree stump to a child, or even a belt for that matter. All I am trying to say is children need discipline, and the method my father and his father before him chose to discipline their children was a parenting choice that worked for them and their children.

Parents should have the right to choose how they discipline their children without fear of being branded a criminal. If the intent and purpose is to discipline the child and they do so within reason (broken bones, severe bruising, and ripped flesh are not within reason), discipline choices should be left in the hands of the parents. I have been spanked with an open hand, swatted with a belt, and stung with a switch, and the only lasting imprint on me was a greater desire to make better choices, respect others and not do anything I would be ashamed or afraid of my father finding out about later. My father has been gone nine years, and I still do my best to make the right choices, respect others, and do the right thing. I have his belt and his love to thank for that; thank God he had the right to choose what he felt was best for me.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 21, 2014

12 Things about Kids the Parenting Guides Won’t Tell You

Every parent wants the best for their children. That does not mean that parents always know what is best for their children. For most parents, their first revelation about parenting is they need help. They learn that something that looks so simple is one of the hardest tasks they will ever undertake in their lives. Every day there seems to be a new twist to parenting. Just when parents think the corner has been turned for the better, some bizarre, terrifying, mind boggling, or unexpected something smacks them upside the head. Even when they are lucky enough to learn how to muddle through and get by, there is often a lingering feeling that something is missing or there is something they should be doing as a parent that they are neglecting. As a result, parents look for advice on how to raise their children; they seek help from their parents and grandparents, they listen to friends, and they read just about everything they can find that will make them a better parent.

Book stores devote whole sections to “how to guides” for parents. There are guides on how to be a better parent, guides for reading with children, guides for teaching children responsibility, guides for connecting with children, guides for conflict management, and the topics go on and on. Everyone who has ever been a kid, had a kid, or carries a PhD in kid and adolescent psychology has a theory, opinion or insight into the mystery of how and why children think and act as they do. Most of these guides offer parents sound advice on how to deal with the day-to-day challenges and surprises of raising children, but unfortunately, these guides also often leave out key information. The reasons behind the omissions could be debated at length, but suffice it to say most often the reasons lie in the author’s core beliefs (The book is secular in tone, and anything spiritual is avoided) or in the economics of the author’s wallet (The author is saving the information, so parents can dish out another $29.95 for the author’s next book).

However, there are no politically correct strings or monetary motivation attached to this article; the sole purpose is to provide parents with the information the parenting guides do not always tell them or won’t tell them. Hopefully, the list below will elicit a smile, offer some insight into kids, or maybe cause reflection on the parent/ child relationship. After all, parents want what is best for their children, and for that to happen, they need all the help they can get.

  12 Things about Kids the Parenting Guides Won’t Tell You

  1. Kids are God’s way of telling adults they are not in control;
  2. Kids enter pre-school/kindergarten on fire to learn. It is the parents’ and teachers’ responsibility to keep that flame burning throughout the child’s school career;
  3. Kids and dogs are about love and a perpetual financial commitment;
  4. Naps are more for parents than for kids.  Parents need the down time to replenish their batteries more than kids who run on EverReady;
  5. Kids have the capacity to learn any language introduced to them, but yet, they can’t understand what “No” means;
  6. When a kid ignores you, it is not personal; there are other things on his mind – like himself;
  7. There is no life after kids; they never go away;
  8. A kid’s first addiction is chocolate milk;
  9. Kids are internally wired to embarrass parents every chance they get;
  10. Never ever eat anything off a kid’s plate;
  11. From birth to the age of 25, the funniest thing in the world to a kid is passing gas; and
  12. Kids are God’s way of telling parents life is worth living.

JL                    ©Jack Linton, September 13, 2014

12 Tips about School Some Parents May Not Know

As I travel to schools as a consultant, I am always amazed at similarities between schools. The issues and concerns are pretty much the same no matter where I go. The only difference is the names of the towns, schools, and people. For example, as a teacher and later as an administrator, I often thought I was the only one who dealt with parents who did not have a clue as to the role of the school and their role as a parent. I often felt like every clueless parent in a one-hundred mile radius had boarded a helicopter with my school as the final destination. However, I have discovered more than likely helicopters filled with clueless parents are landing daily at every school across the country.

I am not pointing a finger at every parent. There were many wonderful parents when I was a teacher and school administrator, and there are many wonderful parents at the schools I now have the privilege to visit, but why can’t all parents be wonderful? All of us, teachers and parents alike, have the best interests of the children in mind, so why do some parents have to be so adversarial when they come to the school? Why do some parents “get it” while other parents enter the school house as clueless as a Betsy bug? After mulling over this dilemma at length, I came to the conclusion that some parents may not have been properly educated in regards to the finer points of school and parenting. So, I have made it my civic duty to give these parents some guidance for their role and the school’s role in the education of their children. Hopefully, the twelve tips I have provided will significantly increase the number of supportive, wonderful parents in schools across the country.

 12 Tips about School Some Parents May Not Know:

  1. School starts on time and at the same time every day. It is impossible for the school to sync its bell schedule with every parent’s watch. It is the parent’s responsibility to sync their watch with the school bell schedule, so they can get their child to school on time.
  2. Teachers are human and have feelings too. PETT (People for the Ethical Treatment of Teachers), a teacher rights campaign designed to bring attention to and end verbal and physical abuse of teachers, states that abuse of any kind is not an acceptable occupational hazard of the teaching profession. Recent research conducted by the Heinemann Institute confirmed teachers are sensitive to harsh vocal tones, extremely loud name calling, cursing, threats and intimidation. The Institute’s findings support the earlier work of Dr. Gwendolyn Haystacker that confirms the humanity of teachers.
  3. Use your inside voice when talking to the school receptionist, principal, and teachers. It is also advisable that if you are within six inches of the school employee’s nose, that you use a breath mint as well.
  4. Schools hold your children in the hallways during severe weather for their safety not to punish them or to inconvenience you.
  5. Custody battles are hard enough on children without bringing the battle to school as well. When it comes to custody battles, the only side the school is on is the child’s.
  6. A child’s attitude toward school is usually a direct reflection of the parent’s attitude toward school.
  7. When you cover or lie for your child, you are teaching them more about how to conduct themselves in life than teachers will ever be able to teach them.
  8. Homework and outside projects are for the child, not for the parent. There is no justifiable reason for a parent to do the homework assignment, science fair project, or reading fair board for the child. Stop making excuses for your child not completing his/her homework or project even if it is too hard for you to do. It is their assignment, so teach them to take responsibility for it, especially when it is difficult. You are doing your child an injustice when you teach them to look for an excuse when things get tough. You are the most important role model in their lives, and what they learn from you at an early age, good or bad, will influence them for the rest of their lives.
  9. The teachers are not always right, but they are right often enough for you to show respect and listen to their side of the story before you jump the fence with fire in your eyes.
  10. Embrace new ways of teaching! Get use to the idea that school is no longer the school you attended ten to twenty years ago. Get use to the idea that the world and school is rapidly changing whether you like it or not. You can resist all you want, but we are not going back to the good ole days.
  11. Accept the fact, that although your child might never lie, children act on a need to know basis. They tell adults only what they deem they need to know, which does not include self-incriminating details.
  12. Remember this the next time you hear someone comment about teaching being a cushy job with loads of free time. The average person works 1920 hours in a 240 day work year or an average of 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day, and they also receive overtime pay for any hours over 40 in a week. The average teacher works 2,035 hours in a 185 day work year or an average of 55 hours per week or 11 hours per day, and they do not receive overtime pay for any hours over 40 in a week including the weekends they work.

This list is certainly not all inclusive, so if you can think of anything else that may help all parents “get it,” please feel free to share. Schools need supportive parents, so whatever we can do as educators to help parents be more wonderful, we should do our best to make it happen.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 7, 2014

Is it Time to Do Away with Standardized Testing?

Recently, while talking with a teacher about the importance of adjusting instruction to meet the needs of children in the classroom, the teacher suddenly burst out laughing. I asked why that was funny. She stopped laughing and became very serious. “It’s funny,” she said, “because adjusting instruction to meet the needs of my students is against what I am allowed to do in my classroom. I have been given a day by day timeline for what I teach, and I am held accountable to that timeline regardless of whether my students have learned the material or not. The mindset around here is that if I cover it, the students will learn it, and if they don’t, oh well, it was covered. Following the timeline to ensure we cover everything that will be tested is the priority, not learning.”

Those words played in my mind for the rest of the day. How could this be? How could we have come to a place in education where conformity has been misconstrued for accountability? There is nothing wrong with some expectancy of conformity in instructional practices, but when it comes to learning, conformity should take a back seat to the needs of the child. When focus in the classroom shifts from learning to coverage of material at the expense of children, something is seriously wrong with our approach to accountability.

Accountability is not bad when it makes learning “purposeful;” however, accountability is bad if it becomes a “check-list” for completed tasks, which in effect makes learning “incidental.” For learning to have meaning and relevance, it must have a focused purpose. However, that has not always been the case in schools. I entered the teaching profession years ago when a teacher was given a key to the building, the book room, and the classroom and sent forth in isolation to teach whatever the teacher deemed important. Often lessons in the classroom were of special interest to the teacher with more focus on what the teacher did in the classroom than what the students learned in the classroom. There was no accountability for learning, and in fact in many cases learning was secondary at best. Of course, this was not the case for every teacher, there were exceptional teachers who raised the bar far above the norm, but the norm was mediocrity at best, and the overall mindset was that was good enough. As a teaching profession, we did not consistently hold ourselves accountable for learning in the classroom, and as a result we left the door wide open for others to hold us accountable. For the sake of children growing up in a global society where knowledge has grown and continues to grow at an exponential rate, that was not a bad thing. When it works as intended, accountability in education is a safeguard against the “doing your own thing” mentality that once prevailed in classrooms across America. For the sake of children there must be accountability, which equates to consistency of instruction in every classroom. However, when accountability is reduced to a “check and move on list,” we are missing the point! Accountability in education is not about saying “we did it;” it is about saying “they learned it.”

I still maintain accountability is important, and I believe testing is still probably the easiest solution for holding educators accountable for student learning. However, is it the best measure for holding all stakeholders responsible as well as motivating students to learn? The answer is a simple NO! When it comes to standardized tests, there are too many issues such as cost, time, priorities, stress, competition and accountability equity for testing to continue to be a reasonable and responsible solution. For example, look closely at each of these issues:

  1. Cost: With the current testing situation in this country, we are bankrolling the big testing companies to the tune of billions of dollars each year while educationally bankrupting our children. Why not spend those billions of dollars recruiting and enticing our nation’s brightest young minds to become teachers as well as researching and finding ways to deal with poverty, which is the real detriment to our children performing well as global citizens? If this nation wants to truly compete globally, we need to find ways to reduce poverty and develop a highly motivated and quality teacher work force!
  2. Time: With the current testing situation in this country, we are replacing valuable instructional time with standardized testing. For several weeks out of each school year, children and teachers are focused on taking a test rather than focused on classroom instruction that makes a difference in the children’s lives. Ask any teacher, and they will tell you WE TEST TOO MUCH!
  3. Priorities: With the current testing situation in this country, we are often more concerned with checking off the standards as taught than we are about what the child has learned. In all the years that students in the United States have been subjected to standardized testing there is little evidence to support testing as an accountability measure has improved our children’s global status. Finland, the top performing nation on such international assessments as PISA and TIMMs, does not force standardized testing on its children, yet Finland consistently has the top or near the top scores of all industrialized nations. Why? Low poverty and a focus on recruiting quality teachers appear to be the major factors.  
  4. Stress: With the current testing situation in this country, we had better be recruiting bright new teachers since the bright veteran teachers are leaving the profession in droves.
  5. Competition: With the current testing situation in this country, we are promoting competition not learning. With standardized testing and the swing toward merit pay for teachers, we are effectively pitting state against state, school against school, student against student, and teacher against teacher.  We are kidding ourselves when we say we focus on testing to improve learning in our schools. Standardized tests are little more than ranking tools designed to place a number on kids and teachers. In America, testing is part of this nation’s obsession with competition. We don’t always like to do what it takes to be on top, but we are a nation of Monday morning quarterbacks who love to see where we stand in the rankings, so we can crowd around the coffee machine and take pot shots at those sorry “so and sos” responsible for our poor showing.
  6. Accountability Equity: With the current testing situation in this country, standardized tests do not hold all stakeholders accountable.  To a small extent students are held accountable, and to a large extent teachers are held accountable.  However, where is the accountability for parents, community and politicians? If educational accountability in this country is to work, the finger must point in all directions, not just at the teacher.

So, what is the solution to the testing dilemma? Should we just throw testing out and do the best we can without it? On the surface that appears to be the best answer, but unfortunately history has shown as educators we often struggle to hold ourselves truly accountable for what is best for kids. That statement will probably anger many educators, but it is an unfortunate fact, so it is imperative for the sake of children that we keep some form of accountability in place. I do not pretend to have the answer, but I do contend there are answers available if we are so inclined to open our eyes and begin looking for them. What can we do to right the sinking ship? I have three suggestions that some might say border on the extreme, but maybe it is time for extreme measures:

Rather than depend on standardized tests for accountability, why not . . . .

  1. Embrace performance based assessments: Although not without some issues, especially logistical, performance based assessments make the best sense when assessing what a student knows and is able to do. Such assessments are certainly more cost effective, and place accountability not only on the teachers but squarely back on the shoulders of the student where it belongs.
  2. Require all politicians to take the standardized test and then publish their scores.  The test will only have to be given once, or not at all, before politicians cry foul and shut down testing for good. Hopefully, not before they work with educators to come up with an alternative to standardized testing; and
  3. Do away with standardized tests, and establish proficiency exams for entrance into all junior/community colleges, colleges, universities, trade schools, and skilled labor positions. When a student applies for college admission or for a skilled labor position, he must take a proficiency test.  If the student fails the test, the student is referred back to the high school he graduated from for remedial work.  For students referred back to their home school district, the cost of the remediation and the loss of first year tuition to the college or university will be shared by the school district and the parents/guardians. State politicians who failed to vote to adequately fund education for the home school district will also be held personally responsible for sharing in the cost to re-educate the student. Teachers who taught the student during his school years (K-12) will be required to provide remedial instruction to the student after school or even on weekends with no extra pay. The student will be mandated by law to attend the remedial classes as well as pay off his share of the remediation through weekend and afternoon community service. Basically, there would no longer be a need for standardized testing since accountability for education would be a shared endeavor by all.

The bottom line is that maybe it is time to change how we hold students and educators accountable for learning in the classroom. Testing has had its day, and although in many ways we are better off today than we were a few years ago, we appear to have reached a plateau with no hope of going anywhere but over the edge. Teachers and their students do not need to focus on completing a checklist for preparing for standardized tests when there are much more important things they need to be focused on – like learning.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 1, 2014

Is it Time to Do Away with Standardized Testing?

Recently, while talking with a teacher about the importance of adjusting instruction to meet the needs of children in the classroom, the teacher suddenly burst out laughing. I asked why that was funny. She stopped laughing and became very serious. “It’s funny,” she said, “because adjusting instruction to meet the needs of my students is against what I am allowed to do in my classroom. I have been given a day by day timeline for what I teach, and I am held accountable to that timeline regardless of whether my students have learned the material or not. The mindset around here is that if I cover it, the students will learn it, and if they don’t, oh well, it was covered. Following the timeline to ensure we cover everything that will be tested is the priority, not learning.”

Those words played in my mind for the rest of the day. How could this be? How could we have come to a place in education where conformity has been misconstrued for accountability? There is nothing wrong with some expectancy of conformity in instructional practices, but when it comes to learning, conformity should take a back seat to the needs of the child. When focus in the classroom shifts from learning to coverage of material at the expense of children, something is seriously wrong with our approach to accountability.

Accountability is not bad when it makes learning “purposeful;” however, accountability is bad if it becomes a “check-list” for completed tasks, which in effect makes learning “incidental.” For learning to have meaning and relevance, it must have a focused purpose. However, that has not always been the case in schools. I entered the teaching profession years ago when a teacher was given a key to the building, the book room, and the classroom and sent forth in isolation to teach whatever the teacher deemed important. Often lessons in the classroom were of special interest to the teacher with more focus on what the teacher did in the classroom than what the students learned in the classroom. There was no accountability for learning, and in fact in many cases learning was secondary at best. Of course, this was not the case for every teacher, there were exceptional teachers who raised the bar far above the norm, but the norm was mediocrity at best, and the overall mindset was that was good enough. As a teaching profession, we did not consistently hold ourselves accountable for learning in the classroom, and as a result we left the door wide open for others to hold us accountable. For the sake of children growing up in a global society where knowledge has grown and continues to grow at an exponential rate, that was not a bad thing. When it works as intended, accountability in education is a safeguard against the “doing your own thing” mentality that once prevailed in classrooms across America. For the sake of children there must be accountability, which equates to consistency of instruction in every classroom. However, when accountability is reduced to a “check and move on list,” we are missing the point! Accountability in education is not about saying “we did it;” it is about saying “they learned it.”

I still maintain accountability is important, and I believe testing is still probably the easiest solution for holding educators accountable for student learning. However, is it the best measure for holding all stakeholders responsible as well as motivating students to learn? The answer is a simple NO! When it comes to standardized tests, there are too many issues such as cost, time, priorities, stress, competition and accountability equity for testing to continue to be a reasonable and responsible solution. For example, look closely at each of these issues:

  1. Cost: With the current testing situation in this country, we are bankrolling the big testing companies to the tune of billions of dollars each year while educationally bankrupting our children. Why not spend those billions of dollars recruiting and enticing our nation’s brightest young minds to become teachers as well as researching and finding ways to deal with poverty, which is the real detriment to our children performing well as global citizens? If this nation wants to truly compete globally, we need to find ways to reduce poverty and develop a highly motivated and quality teacher work force!
  2. Time: With the current testing situation in this country, we are replacing valuable instructional time with standardized testing. For several weeks out of each school year, children and teachers are focused on taking a test rather than focused on classroom instruction that makes a difference in the children’s lives. Ask any teacher, and they will tell you WE TEST TOO MUCH!
  3. Priorities: With the current testing situation in this country, we are often more concerned with checking off the standards as taught than we are about what the child has learned. In all the years that students in the United States have been subjected to standardized testing there is little evidence to support testing as an accountability measure has improved our children’s global status. Finland, the top performing nation on such international assessments as PISA and TIMMs, does not force standardized testing on its children, yet Finland consistently has the top or near the top scores of all industrialized nations. Why? Low poverty and a focus on recruiting quality teachers appear to be the major factors.  
  4. Stress: With the current testing situation in this country, we had better be recruiting bright new teachers since the bright veteran teachers are leaving the profession in droves.
  5. Competition: With the current testing situation in this country, we are promoting competition not learning. With standardized testing and the swing toward merit pay for teachers, we are effectively pitting state against state, school against school, student against student, and teacher against teacher.  We are kidding ourselves when we say we focus on testing to improve learning in our schools. Standardized tests are little more than ranking tools designed to place a number on kids and teachers. In America, testing is part of this nation’s obsession with competition. We don’t always like to do what it takes to be on top, but we are a nation of Monday morning quarterbacks who love to see where we stand in the rankings, so we can crowd around the coffee machine and take pot shots at those sorry “so and sos” responsible for our poor showing.
  6. Accountability Equity: With the current testing situation in this country, standardized tests do not hold all stakeholders accountable.  To a small extent students are held accountable, and to a large extent teachers are held accountable.  However, where is the accountability for parents, community and politicians? If educational accountability in this country is to work, the finger must point in all directions, not just at the teacher.

So, what is the solution to the testing dilemma? Should we just throw testing out and do the best we can without it? On the surface that appears to be the best answer, but unfortunately history has shown as educators we often struggle to hold ourselves truly accountable for what is best for kids. That statement will probably anger many educators, but it is an unfortunate fact, so it is imperative for the sake of children that we keep some form of accountability in place. I do not pretend to have the answer, but I do contend there are answers available if we are so inclined to open our eyes and begin looking for them. What can we do to right the sinking ship? I have three suggestions that some might say border on the extreme, but maybe it is time for extreme measures:

Rather than depend on standardized tests for accountability, why not . . . .

  1. Embrace performance based assessments: Although not without some issues, especially logistical, performance based assessments make the best sense when assessing what a student knows and is able to do. Such assessments are certainly more cost effective, and place accountability not only on the teachers but squarely back on the shoulders of the student where it belongs.
  2. Require all politicians to take the standardized test and then publish their scores.  The test will only have to be given once, or not at all, before politicians cry foul and shut down testing for good. Hopefully, not before they work with educators to come up with an alternative to standardized testing; and
  3. Do away with standardized tests, and establish proficiency exams for entrance into all junior/community colleges, colleges, universities, trade schools, and skilled labor positions. When a student applies for college admission or for a skilled labor position, he must take a proficiency test.  If the student fails the test, the student is referred back to the high school he graduated from for remedial work.  For students referred back to their home school district, the cost of the remediation and the loss of first year tuition to the college or university will be shared by the school district and the parents/guardians. State politicians who failed to vote to adequately fund education for the home school district will also be held personally responsible for sharing in the cost to re-educate the student. Teachers who taught the student during his school years (K-12) will be required to provide remedial instruction to the student after school or even on weekends with no extra pay. The student will be mandated by law to attend the remedial classes as well as pay off his share of the remediation through weekend and afternoon community service. Basically, there would no longer be a need for standardized testing since accountability for education would be a shared endeavor by all.

The bottom line is that maybe it is time to change how we hold students and educators accountable for learning in the classroom. Testing has had its day, and although in many ways we are better off today than we were a few years ago, we appear to have reached a plateau with no hope of going anywhere but over the edge. Teachers and their students do not need to focus on completing a checklist for preparing for standardized tests when there are much more important things they need to be focused on – like learning.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 1, 2014