Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Testing 1-2-3

“Test” is a four-letter word in my book, made obscene by 14 years of insanity in American schooling. Testing mania has sapped passion from teachers, disheartened our children and crippled any sense of school as a place to explore, discover, enjoy the fruits of knowledge. “Out with the tests!” is the rallying cry to restore education and I’m often at the front of the charge.

Of course, the problem is not tests, but the inflated weight, the dubious reasons behind them, the random choices about what’s important to know. Any teacher knows that tests are a tried-and-true strategy to review information, to assess what each student knows, to develop valuable study habits. There’s no reason to throw out that baby with the bathwater.

Today I gave my first Jazz History/ Jazz Listening test of the year and a joyful experience it was. The kids came in with just the right amount of tension to make the game of testing interesting and mostly left with the pleasure of showing themselves and me how much they’ve learned, how much they know, how satisfying— and dare I say fun?— it was to study. Well, when your study involves listening to Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and the like, hey, that’s my idea of fun. And even more gratifying, it feels like the kids are either infected by my enthusiasm or genuinely turned on to the music, humming along with it, yelping in pleasure when they recognize a tune. And why shouldn’t they be? This is great music and they’re open enough to stretch beyond the narrow bandwidth of contemporary pop and smart enough to catch the infectious rhythms, great melodies and a lifetime of nuances.

When the stakes are low (no one’s high school acceptance depends on their jazz history score, but a better choice than other scores they need!), when the ratio of test to discovery is in balance, when the material is fabulous, testing can be fun! We all love to know what we know, to show what we know, to know things worth knowing.

Please read this blog carefully. There will be a test.

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