The Problem With School Testing

In a recent post, I argued:

Tests are horrible measures of whether students are mastering valuable 21st century skills, the skills that really matter.

Just published is a new book by education writer Anya Kamenetz that attacks the standardized tests that are used today in the United States. The TIME Magazine review quotes from it:

The research against these tests is fairly damning. “MIT neuroscientists found that improving the math scores of a group of eight grade students in Boston has little influence on their…ability to apply reasoning,” the author writes. Most standardized tests aren’t objective, don’t measure a student’s ability to think, and don’t reliably predict how well a kid will do in the workplace. So what’s good about them? They’re relatively cheap to create, easy to administer, and they yield data.

By coincidence, this week I also attended a compelling keynote talk by Harvard’s Tony Wagner, education researcher and author of five books on educational change and reform. He emphasized the same points, noting that we actually DO have tests today that in fact CAN measure valuable 21st century skills. So why aren’t they used? They’re expensive and time-consuming to administer–too expensive for every student to take. So we keep using tests that everyone knows are lousy, just because politically, we need SOMETHING and we can’t afford anything that’s actually based in research. (Well, not without increasing school funding…)

We know how to improve schools. And it’s NOT by doing the same thing we’re doing now, just incrementally better. (Which is the only possible outcome of today’s tests.) To learn more, read this new article, available for free: “The future of learning.”

Building a Better Brainstorm

Fast Company Magazine writer Anya Kamenetz published an innovative feature titled “Building a Better Brainstorm” in the February 2013 issue. She interviewed me and also several other experts on group creativity, including Bob Sutton, Gerard Puccio, and Charlan Nemeth. Then she edited and blended together our statements with quotations from our books, and then added in quotations from books by the late Alex Osborn and others. Anya wove all of these bits together to make it read as if we were all having a conversation in the same room. For example, she has me responding to a “statement” by the (long dead) Alex Osborn, saying “That’s not really true” in response to his statement in support of brainstorming.

The feature has several amusing touches. For example, she has author Jonah Lehrer “saying” that “I’m Jonah. I declined to comment for this article.”

I stand by this quotation she took from our interview:

Groups are better for problem-finding, for working on ill-defined or wicked problems, where you don’t know what a solution would look like or even if there is a solution.