Opinion: Teach-to-the-test mentality plagues U.S. education system


(Cartoon Credit: Theresa Walle).

You can’t help but admire Malala Yousafzai.

The 17 year-old Pakistani advocate for girls’ education recently became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The day I heard this news I bought a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks and turned on my heated blanket. I think Malala wins.

As American teenagers, we become so consumed by our responsibilities that we forget. We take our freedoms for granted. We joke about dropping out of school, and we complain about our massive amounts of homework. We forget those around the world struggling–struggling for a meal, struggling for safety, struggling for freedom, struggling for equality.

Malala, though, has not forgotten. She will never forget. How can we ever relate to a girl who survived a shot to the head by the Taliban for doing nothing more than getting an education as a female?

We must strive to value the quality of our education. Since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, our nation’s classrooms have become stifled by standardized testing. Many schools have developed a ‘teach-to-the-test’ mentality, causing students to memorize statistics the night before an exam to be regurgitated on paper the next day and then forgotten. When I sit in class, I am often only concerned about learning the material needed to ace the particular chapter’s test. I question what I need to know for the test instead of asking why the material is important.

As I look around in my class, students stare dreamily into their computer screens, disengaged from the lecture which was taken directly from the book publisher’s powerpoint. This is not what education should be, but it is only what we have made it. It is a two-way street; both students and teachers are responsible.

We can change, though. Instead of focusing on material needed for a test, examine the bigger picture. I notice that in classes where students are most engaged, teachers center their lessons on students’ thoughts and opinions. By applying subject material to real-world events and finding the importance of the material taught, class time will be more successful.

As college looms in the all-too-near future, I fear that we have lost sight of why we learn—why we attended school starting at age 5. We are not learning to excel on report cards; we are learning to better ourselves and prepare for the future.