Constant student testing means intangible skills fall by wayside
Today’s schools are increasingly driven by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that states every student must be proficient in all core subject areas (i.e. Mathematics, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies) by 2014. This has led to an ever narrowing focus on what is being taught.
If a particular subject, topic or behavioral area is not a part of the competency test or likely to affect academic success on said test, it is being discarded by schools. Creating socially adept, fully rounded, productive citizens is no longer a primary concern of today’s NCLB schools. In fact, many desirable skills that students previously learned in schools are now viewed as counter-productive to the single objective of teaching the test.
One of the first skills to go was cursive writing. In my opinion, this was skill was axed a bit early. Every day, I see that my eighth-grade son has had to print class notes. When the family computer is in use, he has to write rough drafts and do homework by printing. He often brings home worksheets that can only be done by writing. As folks my age know, you can write something like ten times faster using cursive. The back story here is that my son, who is 13, fell into that group where NCLB had forced elementary teachers to end meaningful instruction on cursive writing. Both my son and my daughter (age 10) have stated that little more than a few minutes are spent on practicing cursive writing. Maybe I am a bit sentimental about the death of cursive writing but I believe there are still reasons to teach these skills for at least the next generation. Until every person has a portable computer from the day they enter school till the day they die, cursive is a time-saving skill. Further, cursive is the accepted standard for signing everything from contracts to checks, mortgages, wills, etc. Finally, keyboarding skills require a high level of hand-eye coordination and dexterity that younger children do not possess.
Field trips are becoming another NCLB casualty. Highly structured learning blocks and incessant testing have eliminated time previously allotted for visiting parks, museums, and cultural centers. The days when value was assigned to students exploring their community and discovering via nontraditional approaches are nearly gone. The current thinking is that field trips are luxuries no longer affordable due to the time they take away from directed instruction.
Social skills are another area getting the short shrift in the NCLB era. Traditionally, schools were viewed as training grounds for developing well-adjusted, well-rounded citizens. Teachers were to reinforce societal norms taught in the home and extend both formal and informal moral instruction. Skills emphasized included everything from personal hygiene to manners to communication. Today, NCLB has necessitated that every minute of school time is used solely for core subject specific instruction. For example, as students wait in line to use the restroom, they are drilled with math facts. Peer communication during lunch and before school is curtained; instead students are encouraged to read, study for tests or do homework. Little time beyond a 20-minute or so recess is allotted for children to talk among themselves or with their teachers to develop the communication and social graces needed in the workplace and to succeed in life.
These facts highlight a big-picture problem that has concerned me as principals becoming singularly focused on making the grade to the exclusion of everything else. No time is left for kids to be kids or teachers to be role models outside of core subject areas. This has a dehumanizing effect on not just the students but the teachers as well. In the NCLB system, it seems to me students are viewed as little more than automatons and teachers are the programmers who feed the students’ knowledge. While this scheme may initially improve scores, ultimately the system will fail as the stress of being forced to try to achieve unreasonable and unachievable results becomes evident.
In my opinion, the NCLB movement is doomed. There is no way that 100 percent of students across the nation are going to be proficient in every core subject area. When politicians with no practical teaching experience concoct legislation like NCLB, virtually every teacher knows it’s a joke.
Unfortunately, the politicians who created this law with the intent of modifying it over time never foresaw a scenario where the Senate and House of Representatives could not agree on anything. The Washington, D.C. gridlock has prevented the overhaul of this fanciful legislation. Therefore for the foreseeable future, teachers morale will remain at all-time lows, teachers will continue to leave the profession in droves, and many children will continue to be told that they are failures for not meeting the NCLB standards. Amen and amen.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a teacher and educational consultant with over 25 years of experience. Please forward questions or comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org