Don’t Trust Your Gut. Trust the Evidence.
High Standards and High-Stakes Testing
If you have a child in public school right now, chances are the idea of high-stakes testing has turned into a bitter reality in the past week or two. It’s hard to figure out who is more stressed out – the teacher and administrators, or the students. But this kind of testing is important, we’re told, because it leads to better teachers, better schools, and most importantly, higher levels of student achievement.
But what if it doesn’t?
As award-winning principal Carol Burris points out in the Washington Post, “as high-stakes tests become more difficult, the curriculum becomes narrower and narrower. The tests soon drive teaching and learning.”
This outcome would be bad enough on its own, but as Burris points out, there isn’t even any convincing evidence that tough standards and tough testing result in higher student achievement or college readiness. The entire article is worth a read.
How We Learn
We all know the most productive way to learn a new skill or idea: practice, practice, practice. From the 10,000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, to the legions of kids each year who drill math facts over and over, we sometimes seems to be in the midst of a cult of repetitive practice.
Which is why a new book by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel is such a breath of fresh air. In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors take many of our common sense assumptions to task, refuting them with convincing evidence. “Massed practice,” as they call it, turns out to be one of the least productive learning strategies. In fact, they argue that when it comes to learning, we should pretty much ignore our common sense – because humans are notoriously poor judges of whether we are learning well or not.
At The New School, we’re committed to trusting the evidence. And we’re teaching our students to do the same thing. We still have a couple of spots left for our inaugural class of students. If you know a student who wants more out of high school, send them our way.