By ANGELA CAO, freshman
A child born in 2005 does not have the ability to thoroughly understand and retain information any more effectively than a child born in 1995. Raising the bar in core curriculum standards should not mean adding more information for students be tested. When students score lower on evaluational tests year by year, it is not because they are becoming less proficient. It is because the standards placed on them by the federal government are growing more and more advanced; one day, the “standard” of mathematics and language arts proficiency will progress so much that it will become impossibly out-of-reach for elementary school students who will learn algebra within a couple of decades. There is no proof that years of “educational reform” have made America’s children any smarter, and that is what frustrates the creators of the Common Core State Standards Initiative who base their creations on fantastical ideas.
Attempting to live up to the new demands and to ensure better test scores (for a better worldwide ranking, of course), states, districts and schools have purchased resources, materials, and scripted curricular modules created solely for test success. The state wants numbers, and when the numbers aren’t up to par, they pour in more funding for evaluations. Homework becomes test prep. School becomes test prep. Life becomes test prep. The creative learning and fundamental social skills necessary to work with 20 to 35 individuals in a classroom is being lost as academic creativity has been forced out by degraded and overworked teachers. These experienced teachers, who were trained how to teach and what to teach, aren’t trusted anymore to instruct the students with anything besides the contents of the test. This uniformity has now sucked the life out of the education process. Common Core standards express that every child should meet certain educational milestones in specific timelines, which is very unrealistic. People learn differently; the spectrum of intelligence doesn’t run on a straight line from one end to another. Education has unfortunately become a mechanized system.
I have two tests tomorrow: one in English and one in French. I have studied for about half an hour for each of them. Tomorrow will soon arrive, and I will manage to do fairly well on both of them. I can get by. This is an everyday scenario for my peers and me. Teachers give us information, we memorize it, and then we regurgitate it onto blank Scantrons that were once reserved for special tests (now used everyday). But I can’t blame the teachers; it’s the test creators, the real beneficiaries of the rapidly growing, multi-billion dollar test-creating industry. Teachers have a core curriculum that every student in their classes needs to be able to regurgitate for the HSPA or the PARCC or the NJASK or whatever acronym they dream up. And how we perform on that test, how we perform on a single test within a single day within the one hundred and eighty-one days we spend at this institution, represents the brainpower that was acquired in that year. Regarding the New York State exam, Elizabeth Phillips wrote in The New York Times that “the questions were focused on small details in the passage, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous.”
Finnish students, who go to school on average 570 hours per year (which is much less than American students’ 1,100), scored first in all the countries that participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment. America did not place in the top five for any subject. For them, school starts at age seven. Finnish schools often have lounges and no tardy bells. They do not conduct trap-like “sweeps” to capture tardy students, and they often have a recess in conjunction with lunch. Their strategy is simple – their core curriculum is literally the core curriculum, with very basic strategies and principles of the core subjects taught. The Department of Education in the United States, however, believes that the more students cram the core curriculum, the smarter the students. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way; instead of gaining applicable knowledge that can be used to further improve society, students learn how to win Trivial Pursuit. Is U.S. history so important that I must spend 8th, 9th, and 10th grade learning it in varying degrees of specificity? How will knowing the difference between synecdoche and metonymy help me become more college-, adult-, life-in-general ready?
The overall high school curriculum in the United States is deficient in one main way: it covers too much inessential content because educators are trying to keep up with the rest of the world’s standards without reviewing and removing previous outdated content. As Howard Gardner wrote, “In real life, no one presents us with four choices, the last of which reads ‘none of the above’.”