To the Editor:
For once, I agree with Alfie Kohn (“Feel-Bad Education,” Commentary, Sept. 15, 2004). He makes the correct observation that in many schools and classrooms, the pressure of standards-based testing has resulted in scripted lessons focused on raising test scores that can take the joy out of learning.
Too often, this problem stems from teachers feeling the testing pressure and fearing that poor student results will reflect poorly on them. Not all students are motivated; many come from homes where they do not get the support they need and are not encouraged to meet high expectations for learning.
But that is not always the case.
There are plenty of other classrooms in this country filled with students facing similar challenges, but with teachers who do not succumb to the testing pressure. Instead, these teachers view testing as what it is: a measure of what students learn at a particular point in time.
These teachers take the time to incorporate the standards into their lesson planning, and usually find that they were already there. These teachers teach in a way that motivates their students to learn: They make connections to real-life situations and get children actively involved in their own education. These teachers don’t worry about results making them look bad; rather, they focus on the bigger picture—improving student achievement.
Mr. Kohn has it right in one sense. There are too many classrooms lacking joy. Unfortunately, he wants to blame testing, and I do not see that as the ultimate villain. When someone begins a diet but doesn’t give up chocolate and fried foods, he can’t blame the mirror when he keeps gaining weight. The mirror—like testing—only reflects the whole, true picture.
David P. Driscoll
Massachusetts Commissioner of Education