Extra Credit

(By Julie Zhu)
Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

You said that introducing high-stakes testing in kindergarten "appears to have produced significant gains in reading and math achievement for students in this age group." ["The Pressure Is On, and the Kids Suffer in Kindergarten," March 19].

As a 33-year veteran of an urban school district, I think it is necessary to point out that high-stakes testing, translated into real-world practice, has completely taken over the instructional methods used by public schools. Passing a quantitative test requires that facts be given precedence over reflection, analysis and creativity, because facts are easier to measure.

Teachers and schools have become so test-driven that even though we know what type of teaching methods foster creative skills, we have no time to strengthen these practices because we are racing through a state curriculum guide that dictates the content that will be on the test.

Many of today's students are not interested in knowing what is not on the test. Teachers who have been in this business a while know what can go wrong with this notion of using high-stakes tests to determine success. Virginia has had the Standard of Learning tests since 1998, and so we have seen the long-term effects of a "good idea" that focuses on only part of the story in a child's overall education.

Tests have always existed, and they are valid and necessary, but many of our children are not able to read, write or compute. We need more than just high-stakes testing. We also need time -- time to collaborate with other teachers who are role models and who can share their successful real-world practices; time to develop instruction that encourages and demands more than just choosing a, b, c or d and helps strengthen curiosity, reflection and flexibility; and, of course, the time to develop relationships with our students, communities and parents or guardians.

Patricia J. Lewis


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