Math, Reading, and Little Else
One of my biggest frustrations as an English teacher was how devalued writing had become in my district. This devaluation didn't come from nowhere; the district, like most in the country, had spent nearly a decade focusing on No Child Left Behind's math and reading targets.
Since Minnesota only tests writing in ninth grade (and using laughably low standards), writing isn't important in the test-to-test battle for school survival. My frustrations, however, were nothing compared to those of my colleagues in subjects other than math and English. Their frustrations are justified, as the National Research Council recently found that our single-minded focus on math and reading weakens achievement in social studies.
This is the unwritten rule of data in education: If it's not tested, it doesn't count. The state showed science teachers some love a couple years ago when they began rolling out a science-focused MCA test. Social studies, however, continues to languish in data obscurity (to say nothing of world languages or other, “non-core” subjects).
The NRC argues that this is a critical oversight, as social studies principles are often critical to students' ability to build connections between their schoolwork and the world they inhabit.
Findings like these remind us of the perils of data-obsessive education reform. Math and reading performance are of course critical to student success in other fields – that's why they form the core of our testing program to begin with – but to make those two skill sets the proxy for all educational performance is woefully wrong-headed. There is so much more to what goes on in a school, or even an English classroom – than those tests can possibly illuminate.
Hopefully, reports like these will further a conversation about what data we need and what we want to do with it. We must stop worshiping data for the sake of data, and we must encourage our policymakers to use the measurements we do have appropriately.