Accountability through test scores???????


            I am on sabbatical from teaching first grade this year. My hiatus has given me an opportunity to write, travel, and study. It has also afforded me time to do something that I ordinarily am not able to do: be a substitute teacher in middle and high schools. I enjoy seeing contrasts among various age groups.

            From my years of teaching first grade, I have become accustomed to the  six-year-olds, who find joy and excitement in the act of learning. A recent day in a high school gave me a snapshot of what happens when the kids get a little bit older.

            The teacher for whom I worked provided a packet of information and questions based on the reading assignment. The ninth-graders were permitted to work together to find answers.

            But what I saw was surprising because of the approach that most of them took. Instead of finding answers together, they copied from each other. One goal prevailed: getting the right answers. There was no thrill, no joy, no excitement in learning new material.

            How do we account for the change that takes place from first grade to ninth grade? I have some thoughts:

  • The state has told the schools that they must be accountable, and there is only one measurement of this: test scores. Getting the right answers on tests is the only way the state can understand that students are learning and teachers are teaching.
  • Students have picked up these cues from their parents and teachers. The kids are only doing what they have been told they should do: get the right answers.
  • Learning for its own sake is not what motivates these kids. Instead, the  process I observed is tedious and based solely on creating the final product.

            What have we done to our children to change their focus so dramatically? Is this the quality of education that we want? Are correct answers on papers the only way we can gauge that young people are learning? Is this the wave of the future in public education? Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers.

            Jay Davidson lives in Palo Alto and has been teaching in San Francisco for 31 years; he teaches first grade. He will be teaching Travel Alternatives and Opportunities at the Palo Alto Adult School on March 8. For more information or to enroll, call (650) 329-3752 or contact him at

This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacherís  Advice for Parents.

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