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Soft Teaching Techniques by Robert Scorby


You Can't Fatten a Cow by Weighing It / Testing

Here I go again with something that is controversial, unrealistic, yet best for our children, especially children with learning challenges or language and cultural differences. Testing students rarely delivers what is hoped for, an accurate assessment of the learning progress of a student. Observation and looking at a student's work reveals far more data.

First of all, many competent students do not take the testing seriously. And, some students are aware enough to recognize that doing less than their true abilities will help place them on less challenging learning tracks, in easier classrooms. When I was in school I was not a reader (I taught myself to read at the age of thirty--I could not read a Dr. Suess book to my two-year-old. I experienced total embarrassment when my wife discovered this). I thought of myself as a fairly intelligent person, but not being able to read what was required of me in order to pass standardized tests mostly labeled me as a lazy, if not a dumb student. It is ironic that the reading parts of the testing did not alert the professionals that this was what was holding me back, that this was where I needed work. My teachers most certainly new I was deficient in my reading skills, yet I do not remember at any time a teacher pulling me aside to council me on this. I do remember always being put into the slow reading group, something that felt humiliating, and did not really address my reading problem. So, the standardized testing was not in any way an accurate assessment of what my real strengths were concerning my learning, and living.

Lack of one's reading skill is not the only inhibitor to showing educational ability. Cultural and language differences play a large part in inaccurately assessing students. This should be obvious. If a student does not know the ins-and-outs of our culture or language, how are they supposed to answer so many of the questions that are based on needing this knowledge. I know that the educational system has begun addressing this issue by modifying the testing procedures, allowing parts of the tests to be read by the proctors and writing tests in other languages, but if students have not been able to keep up with the demands of classroom reading, how are they supposed to have the information that should have been learned through the reading process?

If we must test, what is needed is to determine reading difficulties early in a child's education, as well as recognizing the realities of cultural and language differences and difficulties. Tutor them. Teach them to read. A student will not improve just by testing. I know that educators are caring and want the best for the children. However, because of the United States' policy of "No Child Left Behind," teachers and schools often feel that they are forced to "teach to the test." This neglects our student's strengths. Any smart grown-up does not seek a job based on his or her weaknesses. Strengths lead the way. Whether he coined the expression or not, a very smart and caring man, the director of the school I worked at for eleven years, proclaimed, "You can't fatten a cow by weighing it."

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Robert Scorby Copyright January 9, 2007(all rights reserved)