The Smarter Balance test scores for 2016-17 were released in October, and Douglas County’s results were mixed. Some of the scores were good, but others were truly awful.
There are two big problems that might be illustrated by these results. One is that students at many Douglas County schools appear to be abysmally poorly prepared to take on higher education, let alone the STEM jobs of the future. The results also suggest forcing teachers to teach to the test isn’t working — even at producing good test scores.
The low scores aren’t just here in Douglas County. Oregon’s average scores were poor, too. But some of our kids’ scores are shockingly low. Can it really be true that only one tenth of Glendale elementary students are competent at math? If so, that’s terrible. And even at the highest scoring school, North Douglas High School, 30 percent of students didn’t meet state math standards.
If the scores reflect real deficiencies in math ability, then many of these students face dismal prospects.
English scores were all over the map, from a low of 27.8 percent competency in Glendale’s elementary school students to a high of 92.9 percent among Camas Valley High School students. If the tests reflect real achievement, then Camas Valley and other high-scoring schools like Oakland High School may be doing something right. Perhaps schools struggling with English would do well to figure out what’s going right at those schools.
North Douglas High School seems also to have made great strides on this measure, with 85 percent meeting English standards, up from 68.3 percent the previous year. Its math standards also dramatically improved over the same period, rising from 41.7 to 70 percent.
Since we have these test results, we shouldn’t ignore them, especially the low scores suggesting many of our kids appear to be failing at the basic skills necessary to function in the information age. But it’s also important to address some of the damage the tests themselves can do, along with other dysfunctional educational methods.
Too often, schools repeat old patterns, using teaching methods originally designed to produce the great factory workers needed a century ago. These types of rote learning tests exacerbate that problem. It just isn’t the right approach for this century’s students, because the jobs of tomorrow demand students who can think critically and creatively, not just fill in the bubbles.
Today we know that play improves intelligence, and that homework is detrimental, especially for younger students. We also know that physical education and good nutrition help students learn better. Music improves math comprehension. Science and history and civics are vital subjects that make our kids smarter. And most of us have always known the best way to ensure your student excels at English is to foster a love of reading.
If we devote too much time and money to “teaching to the test,” crowding out opportunities for real learning, we may, ironically, lower our kids’ reading and math comprehension. Let’s give teachers the power to focus on what works instead.