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Monday, December 29, 2014

Testing Kills Current Events

If you can just find the right hook, you can capture students' interests.  Standardized tests are not that hook, especially ones designed to mow down even studious, school-loving  kids.  Test prep only increases anxiety and saps students' joie de vivre. 

I've noted over the years, most students greatly enjoy current events.  Students show familiarity with the issues.  They learn about them outside of school and form opinions.  They are ready to learn more and debate others, sometimes quite vocally.  In discussing current events, students exercise many skills which will ultimately prove more valuable to them in life than bubbling in standardized answers. 

You know what?  You'd be hard pressed to find any current events on the Regents.  The exam is written long in advance of the date given.  Check out some of the more recent exams.  See how many of the events you would label as "current."  Students certainly do not recognize them as such.  They can hardly relate to them.  These events seem remote in many of their young lives.  

In a world-history class, we incorporate current events as much as time permits.  It is not nearly enough.  When I assign current events for homework, I ask students to choose international issues, given that we are a global class.  I let them know, however, that if there is a national event of overwhelming interest or importance to them, they can stray.  Sadly, the Regents does not allow anyone to stray his focus primarily to the U.S.--despite the interwoven nature of our world. 

When we hit May and the bird chirps, and the mysterious hawk who haunts our building soars, you might think we can finally revel in the twenty-first century and begin to look in-depth at current events.  Not by a long shot!  Instead, we are directed by our superiors to prep for dear life.  Forty percent of our evaluation depends upon student test scores.  Students, teachers and the school as a whole could suffer if scores drop.  How sad!  At a time when students should take their knowledge and run with it (or, perhaps, more apropos, soar like that hawk), they are constrained by fifty multiple-choice questions, two essays and incredibly high stakes that seem to have very little to do with today.  

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