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How does more testing ensure that students are gaining critical thinking skills?

For those of you who have not yet seen it, the Commission on No Child Left Behind has put out their report proposing changes and updates to the NCLB legislation currently in place.

In reading the high school section of the report (Chapter 6) I was immediately drawn to the recommendations that they are making for high schools. In addition to changing the way that high schools are evaluated, and including evaluation for principals, there are some changes that concern me. First of all the report states that "70 percent [of employers] said that high school graduates were deficient in critical thinking and problem solving skills" (p. 131).

Are they recognizing that there is a pressing need to include more critical thinking activities (such as large design projects) or that students take at least one elective course in their high school career that is designed around critical thinking and problem solving? No, this is not their solution. Instead they are instituting another grade level assessment at the 12th grade level. If they are not bothering to teach these key concepts and skills as part of the curriculum, why on earth do they think that yet another assessment will solve the problem?

Problem-solving courses can take many forms and many of these courses already exist in schools. The problem is that they are being phased due to the pressures of NCLB. Why not re-energize those courses, computer science included, by recognizing they teach an important set of concepts that is often missed in the four R's.

Regardless of your feelings about NCLB and the mentioned changes here, I highly recommend you read the report. Even if you do not read the entire report, at least read the sections pertaining to your particular sphere of existence. Share your thoughts, speak out, let us know what you think the solutions might be.

Leigh Ann Sudol
CSTA Communications Chair


It seems the more benchmark testing that takes place, the further behind our students become. Has it become that we spend too much time teaching to the tests rather than teaching students how to think? I find that my 9th grade math students are coming to me knowing process and procedure very well, but have no idea when to apply these processes. They can't look at a problem and decide what to do, without some kind of clue from me, or their text. They lack the ability to think! We've watered down our assessments so much, so that every student can pass, that we have hurt our students who can excel in a subject.

And in my computer science class it is even worse. The students get angry if the answer to a problem doesn't present itself immediately. This is why students drop the class. They are a product of instant message, and they want an instant answer. Usually it takes me the better part of the first year urging them to plan, and think for more than 5 minutes on a problem, and that it isn't a contest, the answer shouldn't come immediately all the time. I tell my students that the class is supposed to be hard that that when they solve it themselves, it will be rewarding for them. When they get to that point it is. Too bad not every student gets to experience these types of challenging classes.

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