Another Testing Debacle

Without a doubt, I’m not the only one who uttered a “Huh” and re-read the story of the Stem Academy student who received copies of earlier tests to help her pass a World History exam. Plenty of blame can be spread to all involved with the situation.
The first comment comes about the student. From the newspaper article it seems that she isn’t capable of doing the work or is unwilling to do so. She failed the history course and another one. Is the whole issue something that could have been avoided by a more serious commitment to study in “all courses,” not just the ones in which she might excel?
The STEM Academy education is touted as something above and beyond those at other schools in the system. The description on the website states,
“The essential element of high quality STEM education is not a narrow focus, but an open mind disciplined and empowered by scientific reasoning, technological expertise, engineering design, and mathematical logic.”
Evidently, the approach didn’t work for this girl; she didn’t manage to navigate things in a couple of classes. So, she was placed in front of a computer where she was to learn the material. Having her do so violated another description of the academy:
“Our integrated curriculum delivered through project-based instruction develops students' abilities to make connections, work in teams, ask questions, gather and interpret information, evaluate sources, draw meaningful inferences, and defend their conclusions-useful skills for future graduates pursuing any major or career path.”
It looks as if the academy received another failing grade on this. It’s difficult to achieve those things when a student sits in front of a computer screen all day. The young person is more likely being force-fed the material she didn’t get the first time around, and there’s no team work involved.
At any rate, the school system’s responses made the situation as clear as mud. It was a test, but then, again, it wasn’t. The scores counted, but not really. The test used to be used but not any longer, even though teachers didn’t know. Double talk does little to add clarity to a questionable program. Last, it was a test, but not an End of Course (EOC) one. HUH?
This online program Odyssey has never been a favorite of teachers. Recovery credit programs can be completed in a couple of weeks. If the learning results with Odyssey are that spectacular, why doesn’t the superintendent fire all the teachers and let kids earn credits on computers? As things are now, other students resent having to put in the classroom work for a semester while others get the same thing for a fraction of the time.
Somehow, we’ve lost direction in our school system. Money is spent on all sorts of innovative programs. The focus from the top is more on scores than on education. Someone not long ago opined that the system was run more like a manufacturing plant where students were products. Maybe that’s all right at some level, but education is much more than making “cookie-cutter” students. Kids are humans, not products, and an education that works teaches basic skill in subjects, as well as about life and getting along with others. No end of course exam will accomplish that.
Students must be held accountable for what they master in classes. Failure should require a “re-do,” not a shortcut and reward. Cheating must never be allowed so that a student can pass and the system can change its percentages of passing or graduating students.

Most of all, Knox County Schools need to have the courage to do what is best for students. Secondary concerns should be aimed at EOC scores. If teachers are allowed to teach and students are willing to work, the outcomes will be what we all want. It just might avoid another testing debacle. 

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