"At South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, more than half of the eighth-grade class, 134 out of 260 students, opted out of the exams..." So reported The New York Times in an article on New York's standardized English Language Arts (ELA) exam for third and eighth graders. [Standardized Math exams are scheduled for next week.]

The protests, certainly not restricted to Rockville Centre, Long Island, or, for that matter, New York, are not so much aimed at the so-called Common Core curriculum -- a standardized design for upping the ante in Math and English Language Arts (though this, too, is suspect) -- but rather, what has become a culture of teaching to the test, for the test, and about the test.

The concern, and one that is not entirely unfounded, is that as teachers spend their time preparing students to take (and hopefully, excel at) the standardized tests, they do so at the expense of actually teaching so that students will learn.

Learning for learning's sake -- to inspire a passion for creative and logical thought -- becomes the forsaken stepchild of "teaching" skills associated with preparing for test after test after test. The joy of learning, that which should be the very foundation of a child's education, supplanted by fear and anxiety. The merits of classroom-based tests and evaluations, true and accurate measures of a student's progress, displaced by one-size-fits-all megatests, merely measuring how well a student will do on that particular exam.

The theory that increased standardized testing will somehow raise the educational bar has been widely debated, and largely dispelled. Rarely do such broad-based standardized exams demonstrate either a proficiency or an aptitude. [Witness the Scholastic Achievement Test, which morphed into the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and is now in the process of taking on yet another, no doubt similiarly sinister incarnation.]

And yet, we seem to be a nation bent of testing more while teaching less.

No doubt, there is a place, and a real value, to testing students' skills and mindsets. But how much testing -- particularly standardized testing -- is simply too much? Have we lost sight of the very essence of what an education is all about? A love of learning. A lifelong quest to gain knowledge. The ability to observe, to question, to explore, to truly think, and not merely within the confines of a diminutive oval.

Has testing become de facto bullying by a system that seems prone to cut off its own nose in spite of its face? Are we no longer testing performance, but rather, endurance?

Regents exams. ELAs. Math achievement tests. PSATs. SATs. SAT IIs. ACTs. Why, back in the day the City of New York administered standardized exams known as the Iowa Tests, leading this blogger to wonder, "Do they take New York tests in Iowa?"

There has long been a dialogue, even a vociferous debate, over the pros and cons of standardized testing. From FairTest.org to TimeOutFromTesting.org, a grassroots movement of sorts has now spread not only to the parent on the street but, moreover, to the student in the classroom.

Refreshing. For change in the way we conduct ourselves in this society rarely comes from the top down. The establishment is too entrenched and, typically, too monied, to either desire to alter the landscape, let alone to mow the lawn.

The mission in education must be to cultivate that love of learning, from pre-K, through college, and throughout one's life. Testing students ad nauseum, to the point of absurdity, is a hindrance to that critical effort, not a help.  The stakes are far too high to permit standardized tests to jeopardize learning for the very sake of learning itself.

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

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