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Glowing report of test score gains masks deadening effect of test prep

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

To the editors:

As an involved public school parent, I had to wonder about the District’s glowing report of test score advances in Philadelphia.

Last year, my daughter’s day in school consisted largely of the required 90 minutes of reading and 90 minutes of math taught – day by excruciating day – from the same standardized first grade reader and math workbook as one might have seen from a half century ago. Teachers have little, if any, freedom to be creative or imaginative in implementing the curriculum.

I saw the virtual elimination of social studies and science from the elementary school curriculum, and classes like art and music were given the barest gesture of support. She had one field trip the entire year and didn’t even visit the library. She had worksheets and test drills for homework and found that her love of creative writing had hardly any place in a day geared towards multiple choice test answers.

Looking at a test score is a narrow perspective on the life of a school or a child. Such a crude assessment of "improved schooling" doesn’t reflect the perspective of teachers and parents and students who are still struggling to define education as more than a "bounce" on a single test that children took on five particular days out of the year.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal referred to Philadelphia’s test score advances as "revolutionary." Let’s refrain from using the term "revolutionary" until more teachers and parents and students start to use it – rather than those who flaunt the scores to further their own ambitions or those companies who profit from them.

Bret Flaherty
Philadelphia, PA

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