Tuesday, April 22, 2014

People for the ethical treatment of kids

I am told that cheating is on the rise in all schools.   Students are accessing term papers online, are texting each other during tests, giving other students a heads up re: upcoming questions on quizzes.  I am not sure that we are seeing a spate of poor ethics or if the tools for being dishonest have just become so much more efficient that more people are using them.
Whatever the reason it bothers me.   Years ago when high stakes testing became part of No Child Left Behind, I mentioned to someone that the higher stakes would cause more cheating by kids and staff.  People seemed stunned that I would have such a low opinion of my professional colleagues, not to mention the students.  Turned out I was correct.  My problem is I think we are teaching the wrong thing in the way we handle testing.
First of all, every survey will tell you that the traits employers value most is cooperation among team members, problem solving and multi-cultural acceptance.
Yet our testing system rewards just the opposite.  Students are tested alone.   If you ask for help, that is cheating and not allowed.  You may NOT ask for any help.  If you are weak in one area and a classmate is strong in that area, you may not ask that person to team with you in doing the test.   Yet that is certainly what you would do in the workplace and your employer would value that effort.
Tests are mostly designed for knowledge recall.  Here is an area where technology soars.  Why bother to store all that information in your head when you can find facts on the internet faster than a heartbeat.  Instead wouldn't it be better if we taught the kids WHERE to look for the answers and HOW to evaluate the information found.  Wouldn't it be ever so much better if we gave students a problem to solve, had them pick some team members and then present their solution to the problem.
That approach would do a couple of things.  First of all, it is hard to find a pre-done paper when there is no paper involved.  Since each assignment would be unique, it would be more difficult to find the complete answer online and finding the facts you needed to work with would be quite ok.  Secondly, this "test" would mimic the "tests" students would find on the job when they are employees.
One of the things we have learned in this information age is that facts are not immutable for long.  All of us need to learn to work in a changing world and deal with new information.  We need to work with others to solve problems.  We need to get along.  With the new Common Core testing, the situation is going to get even more out of synch with the real world waiting for today's students.  Let's prepare them now and make school relevant to where they will be, not where they are.

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