Our View: Is joy of learning a victim of test-score mania?




Next week, almost a half-million public school students in Mississippi will be taking the Mississippi Assessment Program Tests, the major instrument used to calculate accountability scores for individual schools and school districts.


Those accountability scores (schools and districts are given "A" through "F" grades) have taken on a heightened sense of importance -- and, we fear, a distorted sense of importance -- in recent years as the Legislature seems determined to reward schools with good scores and punish those with poor scores.


We're all for good accountability scores, of course, and recognize the importance of these scores. There is a value in having some objective criteria for measuring the effectiveness of our schools in educating our children.



But in recent years, as schools scramble for state funding, we fear a climate has emerged that too much emphasis is put on these tests. We fear the joy of learning has been lost in the shuffle.


In Lowndes County, the atmosphere appears to range between impending academic Armageddon and scholastic Super Bowl -- utter defeat or glory.


When a school principal tells third-graders that these are "high stakes" tests, we feel things have gone too far. "The anxiety is terrible. The stress is unbelievable," the principal said.


However well-intentioned, these kinds of measures may be -- and certainly students should be encouraged to give their best efforts -- creating this kind of climate of fear is potentially harmful to the student and contrary to learning.


These tests should not be viewed as the primary goal of our educational system. They are intended to be tools, not weapons or a means to grab the funding carrot dangled before them by our elected bureaucrats.


When so much importance is placed on the results of a handful of tests -- and teachers and staff focus inordinate amount of classroom time on preparing for those tests -- we have made a good score a priority over a good education.




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