TED Conversations

Gever Tulley

Author & Founder, Founder, Tinkering School


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Test Schools, Not Children

Instead of subjecting children to an endless series of tests and grades, we should be testing the schools for how engaged the children are, and how many ah-ha! moments there are in a typical day. In the long-term we should test how durable the learning is (how much 5th grade algebra and trigonometry do you remember?), how much curiosity the graduates retain, and how passionate they are for learning as adults.


Closing Statement from Gever Tulley

People perceive many issues in education today, and it is clear from our conversation (sometimes heated, sometimes brilliant), that any attempt to address one single issue necessarily leaves many unanswered issues. In general, those well served by a traditional education seem to see little problem with continuing the practice, and those who struggled through school embrace the notion of change - not for the sake of change, but for the chance that we might invent something better.

In seeking to change how we assess children, I started this conversation with the suggestion that we switch the focus of assessment to the schools. To many, this seemed to be a naive approach. A few commenters seemed to be saying, "the system can work, we just need to be more targeted with our testing." Many agreed that there was too much testing, but that some testing can actually be beneficial. Others found merit and suggested ways that it be implemented. Some concern was raised regarding the time it would take to know when a school was failing.

Eric Mercer turned the topic around, asking, "An educational system reflects, not creates, the habits and practices of a society. So which is broken?" My immediate thought is that the best way to fix an ailing society starts with fixing education, which seems to echo the sentiments of many commenters who suggested that schools aren't doing a good job of helping students discover what they truly want to do with their lives. Lee Wilkinson's high school experience seemed to be putting up more roadblocks when it could have been paving the way; "The problem as I see it is; I told them back then that this is what I wanted to do with my life and was told to stop day dreaming."

This has been a fascinating conversation, and I thank everyone for joining in. I am doing my small part to explore new ways to create meaningful education through Tinkering School and my newest project, Brightworks (http://sfbrightworks.org). All my best,

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  • Feb 18 2011: This discussion reminds me of the question that usually comes to me when the subject of testing students is discussed. That is why nobody seems to ever realize that we are wasting vast sums of money and time when we test every student in a school to try to assess how the school is performing. It never ceases to amaze me how we can fully accept the results of marketing or political surveys that are typically based on the responses of a small number of people that represent a fraction of the full number of people impacted by a question, yet we think we need to test 100% of the students. We are more than willing to accept the results of a questionnaire that 200 or 1,000 people answer and apply it to millions of people. Apparently most polls, surveys and questionnaires have very small margin of errors even though they may be based on a small fraction of 1% of the total population that is affected. Why in the world do we insist on testing 100% of the students in a school. Let's test something like 5% and let the other 95% or so of the students use the time more effectively to learn more.
    • Feb 23 2011: We talk about expensive books, but the expense of all this testing on school districts and governments is positively staggering. Millions are made on test creation and many more are made to employ and train people to do the assessments. It is my opinion that tests are not properly vetted,nor is the job of choosing which companies are engaged in the development of these tests given to educators. The job usually goes to the lowest bidder, but the company doesn't have to stick to the budget and they know that the gravy train will continue for a decade of of fees for updates and assessment training.

      The situation is already unsustainable in my state - to much testing and not enough learning time.

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