What are the two most depressing words in the English language?This week, my vote goes to “test club.”That’s where my daughter is this afternoon. She’s at her school’s “test club.” Instead of running around outside chasing a ball, or dreaming up a dance routine with a friend, she’s burnishing her exam-taking skills for the upcoming test that will determine what secondary school she goes to.
This is what education has come to in Britain and so many other countries. Exam scores are now more important than learning itself. Mastering the art of taking tests has become a central part of the school experience.This is absurd. But it’s also part of a broader obsession with targets and metrics.Measuring progress can be useful, of course, but too often the metrics become an end in themselves.When Sears set quotas for its auto repair teams, staff began overcharging customers and inventing faults.In the public sector, a fixation on targets has led to police forces redeploying detectives to easier cases to meet arrest quotas and to doctors moving patients who are less ill to the front of the queue to keep down waiting times.In 2011, investigators uncovered the largest cheating scandal in the history of the public school system in the US. Nearly 180 teachers and principals across 44 schools in Atlanta, Georgia, were accused of routinely correcting their pupils’ answers on standardized tests. Whistleblowers were bullied, hit with professional sanctions or fired. Meeting those short-term targets, and harvesting the concomitant kudos and cash, had become more important than the long-term goal of giving children a solid education.
Trapped inside the current system, parents have little choice but to prepare their kids for exams. That’s why my daughter is at test club today.
But how useful is all this testing? What do exams really tell us about children?
What they mainly tell us is how good they are at sitting exams. And how useful is that in the real world?
The good news is that pressure for change is building, at last. And not just from frazzled parents and dispirited teachers.
Today, the Chamber of British Industry released a report today hammering Britain for turning its schools into exam factories.
Bottom line: we need a Slow Education movement now more than ever.