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Opinion
Student Achievement Opinion

5 Points Off for Using Pen?

By Starr Sackstein — November 05, 2017 2 min read

“Are you kidding me?” is what I was thinking.

It makes me so angry that I had to erase the exclamation point I almost used at the end of that sentence.

My son called me after having his exam returned at school to inform me that although he got all of answers correct on the test, he lost five points for using pen.

He suspected he would lose points after he took the test when he wrote in pen instead of in pencil, but I assured him that kind of silliness wouldn’t happen.

He was right; I was wrong.

Situations like these get me going and have the possibility of turning me into one of those parents who comes in hot, ready for a fight over something that I feel is a great disservice to my child. As an educator, it is hard for me to witness things like this and not want to start a revolution over it. Unfortunately, I’m not a leader in his system, just his parent.

If the test is supposed to show my son’s level of understanding on whatever content he was being tested on and he got all of the answers correct, what does taking five points off just because he chose to write in pen even if the teacher instructed pencil do?

What does this teach?

Honestly, why can’t a 7th grade student select what kind of writing implement he wants to use when he learns? And if he makes a mistake, what is the difference if he erases or crosses out?

This is one of the central problems/challenges/issues in education... Some educators focus too heavily on controlling and develop compliant little students who do as they are told or else. But this is NOT what education is about.

Although following directions is essential in life at times (I’m not going to dispute that), using them to force students to be compliant only to penalize and degrade their communication of learning because it wasn’t done the teacher’s way, well that seems absurd.

At some point, educators need to examine the principles that drive them and ask themselves, “What am I trying to teach and is this the best means of doing so?”

Learning is a nuanced experience, different for every person and if we want to maximize the learning in every school classroom, we need to consider the how, the what and why we do the things we do. This must align with developing the most flexible and engaged experience that suits the needs of the children NOT the needs of the educator in this instance.

There are already so many superfluous rules students encounter during their school days, that the more we encumber the learning experience with meaningless structures that have been in place for years and only kept there because “it is the way we’ve always done it” the more likely we are turn students off.

School must be a place where students feel stimulated and excited about learning new things, experimenting and taking risks that stretch their thinking, not shut down by folks who feel the need to control them and how they think.

How can we engage in dialogues that allow for students to be more in control of how and what they learn? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.