In 2007, my family moved to Sycamore, Illinois. I had just taken a faculty position at Northern Illinois University and was starting my new career as a professor. As a lifelong soccer player, we decided to get my daughters involved with the local league. I coached both of my kids. One was in an under 8 league and the other was under 10. While I had experience coaching high school athletes, coaching kids was different.
My favorite story from that time was with my daughter’s U8 team. We were in the middle of a game and we had the ball at the opponent’s end of the field. The other team got the ball and started down the field. Our last player back, a six year old girl, was nowhere to be seen. The ball had been away for too long. She was running toward the woods next to the field chasing butterflies. Do you want to why? She liked butterflies. And, she was six. A six year old has a short attention span.
So, why this story? In the testing environment we have created, we expect children that are 8 or 9 years old to be able to pay attention to a 40-80 minute test on a computer. And that is just one day. Testing can take three days with multiple tests on the same day.
According to Edutopia, the average child can concentrate on a task for 2-5 minutes per year of age. To make the math easy, let’s look at a ten year old. That would be 20-50 minutes. Not even close to an 80 minute test.
Now, I am sure you are saying that you have seen your child play with toys for hours or watch TV for an eternity. That is true. But, that is something that is being chosen and enjoyed. Not a test.
Our current testing system has children as young as 7 or 8 sitting for multiple testing days with tests that last up to 80 minutes. In addition, these are done on computers. Not every child has a computer or the ability to use one. For children in the 3rd grade, this test is of utmost importance. If students fail the language arts portion of the test, they are retained. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (from the Center for Development and Learning), retention at a young age is associated with high school dropout (2-11 times more likely), a significantly decreased likelihood of any post-secondary education, and lower educational and employment status in later life.
In a study in the 1980s, it was found that retention was only behind losing a parent and going blind. In a repeat of the study in 2001, it moved ahead of both. Students that are retained have lower self-esteem, poorer attendance, and many other issues (http://www.cdl.org/articles/grade-retention-achievement-and-mental-health-outcomes/).
The point is that we have created a school system that doesn’t take into account the developmental level of the child. We don’t take into account the deleterious effects of testing. We don’t think about the reductionist view of education that only focuses on what is measureable. And it is damaging our education system.
Our schools are filled with wonderful teachers with wonderful ideas. There are fascinating things to learn in literature, science, history, math, music, art, and physical education. There are inspiring educators that are handcuffed by standards that could be creating learning environments that not only educate, but push our children to greatness.
We need to rethink what we are doing in schools. This assessment culture is diminishing us. It is diminishing our children. It is diminishing our world. When I think about children…when I think about my children when they were young, I don’t want to picture them sitting at a computer panicked, stressed, and unhappy. I want to picture them chasing butterflies.
Please vote for Andrew Kemp for the Columbia County, Georgia, School Board—District 3. Visit http://andrewtkemp.com/ for more information.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.