Once again, tides are changing in national education curricula

With secretary of education Arne Duncan announcing he will be leaving office in December, the Obama administration acknowledged not only their role in the increase of testing but suggested schools pull back from their emphasis on testing. The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration wants no child spending more than 2 percent of classroom time on examinations, so “students…take fewer, better tests.”

The previous focus on increasing both testing and difficulty offered teachers little time to rewrite curriculum in order to cover all needed topics. This encouraged administrators to evaluate teachers based on the results of the examinations.

According to a report from NPR, there has been a push for Common Core to replace the current flawed system. With the focus on rapid reform, many schools have either embraced Common Core or abandoned the proposed changes. In order to embrace the emphasis on testing, committees of talented teachers with a firm grasp on how to gratify students’ curiosity are created. By tasking teachers with creating curriculum and administrative work, they can no longer focus on educating students and preparing them for college.

As a result, the Washington Post reported that eighth graders spend an average of 23.5 hours sitting for standardized tests. According to the New York Times, even though this testing amounts to 2.3 percent of the average eighth grade year, there is no evidence of improved academic performance. Both proponents and opponents of testing-heavy curriculum agree that an increase in examinations has negative effects on teachers and students. However, neither side has developed a plan to overcome these deficiencies, as they disagree on the approach in achieving superior education standards in the country. 

While fewer tests can reduce the burden placed on teachers and students, this isn’t a solution for the problem at hand. Tests, not curriculum, need to be revised. For college students, facts memorized rarely help as much as a comprehensive review of content. Objective, multiple-choice exams have become the norm. This type of examination poorly prepares students for a college education, while neglecting the importance of analytical comprehension.

The focus needs to shift towards critical thinking. In order to alter this emphasis, teachers must be free of the restraints of strict, test-heavy curricula. Debate and open discussions would not only stimulate the students’ ability to think, but may even create a byproduct of interest in the topics themselves. 

This is easier said than done, especially given the difficult nature of administering tests with a focus on critical thinking in areas such as science and mathematics. However, if it were possible to configure classrooms in a manner similar to college, discussion-based lectures, it could prove useful in the long run. Students will undoubtedly be acquainted to that style of learning thereby decreasing the learning curve during the first semester of college.