I love Sesame Street. Before going to pre-school I would watch it and while being fully entertained, I would also be learning from Big Bird and all his friends. It's the shows 40th anniversary this week, which should remind us how teaching is one of the most important parts of our society but unfortunately can sometimes be taken for granted.
When trying to hold teachers and schools accountable within their districts, politicians and policy makers always go for the simple answer, standardized tests. Their argument is that these tests can give them data for them to see which schools are doing well and which ones are not.
Now don't get me wrong, I love data. I would never think of any policy or even try to without looking at some statistics because that would be irresponsible. But what sometimes is forgotten is how one size does not always fit all, and there could be multiple reasons why students may or may not do well on standardized tests.
When students take these tests, they become anxious, nervous, and frustrated over what may happen if they don't do well. Even worse is that by teaching to the tests, it takes away from actual learning from the classroom.
These tests narrow the curriculum to what will be tested. Teachers have to do this because they feel the pressure to make sure their students do well because in the end it will be a reflection on them.
I went to The Beacon School in New York City. It is considered one of the best public schools in the city and it started as a place where students were exempt from taking the New York state regents exams. Now however, they have to take them. So while President George W. Bush was touting immigration reform in his last term in office, there used to be (1999-2000) only two questions on immigration on those regents exams.
The most well known of these standardized tests is the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). After World War 2, soldiers coming back were given tests to see where they should be placed in the job market.
The problem was that the Army Tests were ridiculously slanted, rewarding anyone with a knowledge of brand names, baseball trivia and cuts of beef.
But Carl Brigham (the man who invented the SAT and founded the College Board) convinced Princeton University that these tests should be mandatory for students entering college. The test have changed over the years, but the fact of the matter is there is no correlation on how a first year student does in college and the SAT.
Engaging students is hard, Sesame Street has found a great way to do so and should be celebrated for it. Holding teachers feet to the fire is not the best way for students to learn, or for that matter teachers to teach. My prediction is that next year Nancy Pelosi is going to want to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but eight years after its signing 8.7% of students are still not graduating high school.
In sum, while having all students take a test may seem fair, in reality someone is still getting less. Another lesson that can be learned from Bert and Ernie.