Our Education System is Broken
Justin Cox 🍩
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Photo Credit: Carlos Martinez

Standardization isn’t Just Killing Students’ Creativity

It’s Killing Their Love of Creativity

I n the state of Texas, the first standardized test students have to take is in third grade. And the preparation for this test begins in Kindergarten. Actually, for many kids, the preparation begins in pre-kindergarten. Once they take the test, it’s non-stop testing every year until high school when they take five end-of-course exams that they have to pass in order to graduate. These tests are hard, and it’s teachers’ responsibility to get them ready for these tests.

What Standardized Testing Looks Like

But let’s think about what these tests are. I teach English Language Arts. I’m fortunate to be teaching English IV this year because it’s not a tested area, but the past two years I’ve taught English I and English II, which are both tested areas.

Each of these tests require students to sit completely still and silent in a room for five hours while they read texts that are largely unengaging, answer complex inferencing questions about those texts, some with thoughtful written responses in a specific format, read additional unengaging texts to find and correct errors and make revisions, and write an essay.

These tests are designed to assess skill level, but schools are beginning to wise up to the fact that if we teach in the way that these tests are given, give reading passages and questions to go with those passages and standardized essay prompts, students are unengaged and struggle to succeed as a result.

And the inevitable question is: At what point in their adult lives will students ever have to do something like a standardized test?

Engaged Learning…A Hindered Step in the Right Direction

Now the focus is switching to engaged learning, which I think is great. The problem is that standardized testing still exists, and engaged learning doesn’t often prepare students to sit in a room for five hours to take an unengaging test.

I love the idea of students working on projects that require them to develop skills that will serve them well in life after high school. I love it when my students get to be creative. But the last thing standardized testing promotes is creativity.

Engaged learning can’t solve the problem because the problem is the testing.

All we’ll be doing is engaging students and leave them unprepared for a test that will not engage them the way the classroom does.

Standardization is Killing the Love Students Should Have for Creativity

Standardization is destroying the soul of creativity in our students. My subject area is about reading and writing, something a majority of my students hate doing. This is tragic because they’re both activities that I love deeply and most young kids enjoy. Older students often tell me that they loved reading and writing when they were younger, but they hate it now.

My own children, who are six, five, and four and just beginning their journey through this broken system, are all learning how to read and write, and they love it. They come home everyday and create. It’s just what they do, and their love of creativity comes naturally.

If in ten years, my children hate reading and writing, what will be responsible for destroying their natural love of creativity?

According to Ken Robinson, it’s the public education system, and as I work with students each day who hate creating even when they’re given the opportunity, I have to agree with him. It’s the reason why my wife and I are deeply considering pulling our kids from public school to home school.

Something Has to Change

Of course, I teach because I believe public school can be a breeding ground for creativity and preparing students to change the world for the better. But when I’m being told to create an engaged learning environment and finding myself standing against the harmful effects of years of standardization, I realize something has to change in the system. I’m convinced the only people who love standardized tests are the people creating the standardized tests. For the rest of us, it’s killing what could be a time of incredible learning and nurturing of creativity in our students.

If we are born with the drive to be creative and diverse, why is it that the institution that should be most nurturing these natural characteristics of the human spirit is destroying it?

And why aren’t those in control of it seeing it? It leaves one to wonder how many voices have to cry out about the injustice of a broken education system before something finally changes.


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Tom Farr is a blogger, storyteller, and screenwriter who teaches English Language Arts to high school students. He loves creating and spending time with his wife and three children. He blogs regularly about writing and storytelling at The Whisper Project.