BY RIPPLES —
Computers have become an essential part of our lives in the 21st century, replacing many aspects of everyday life. Everything from taking notes, sending emails, scheduling tasks and writing has become digitized. While there is the obvious convenience of being able to use a computer to perform all of these tasks, there is also the need for students to learn the skills to use this technology to maximize efficiency.
One such skill is typing, something that is essential, yet understated, in our elementary schools curricula (refer to page 1). The ability to type accurately and efficiently is crucial in the education of adolescents.
To maximize the education of students in order to effectively prepare them for a successful future in this technology-dominated world, we believe that the amount of standardized tests should be minimized, allocating more time for usable skills, such as typing.
In addition to typing, other essential skills, such as researching, critical thinking and problem solving, multimedia programming, and modern communication contribute to student learning and preparation for the future. However, as expected, most of these skills require technology, specifically computers. With the computer labs decommissioned by standardized testing, students cannot practice or learn these skills as productively as without testing.
Many may argue students may not need to learn these skills in assigned classes in a school computer lab, but can practice and learn computer skills at home. In actuality, to learn these technology skills outside of a structured school environment is much harder and inconsistent than if taught in a computer lab by a teacher.
The option of practicing these skills at home, as has been suggested by Atwater and Lake Bluff, is not suitable, since many students will simply choose not complete their assignments to the same standard as they would with a teacher present, due to dislike or lack of guidance.
Additionally, some students may not have access to a computer outside of school, and therefore the only time in which they are able to practice typing and other technology related skills is during class or time in the computer lab. Not only does school time in the computer labs learning typing, or other essential 21st century skills guarantee students a time to practice, but also provides a structured environment needed to learn these skills properly.
Despite the necessity of learning these skills, both Atwater and Lake Bluff have prioritized standardized testing over their students’ modern education. Due to students taking the Forward exam and the tri-annual MAP tests, the computer labs in both schools have been taken over, leaving no dedicated time for all students to practice their typing, and learn other information that is lacking in our curriculum.
While the Forward exam is state-mandated, the decision to give the MAP tests is left solely to each individual school; it is not a decision made by the state, or even the district. Unlike the elementary schools, the high school recently made the decision to eliminate MAP testing after deeming the tests ineffectual for measuring student improvement.
The real question is whether or not standardized tests are valuable enough to take precedence over teaching the future generation the skills they will almost certainly need. Shorewood Schools pride themselves on forward-focused curricula centered on authentic, expeditionary learning, which emphasizes active learning, character growth and teamwork. Yet, we continue to demand that students take standardized tests. We have to ask ourselves if these elements of our curriculum are contradictory.
Standardized tests only assess a small portion of a student’s education, and often do not accurately reflect a student’s intelligence. If our schools are truly committed to authentic learning and preparing kids for the future world they will face, they should reduce the number and frequency of standardized tests and go back to using that time for teaching 21st century skills, like typing. Instead of continuing to use valuable learning time on further standardized tests, both Atwater and Lake Bluff have the option to better prepare students for the future by reinstating time for using the computer labs for typing and other essential skills.
Even with state-mandated tests, like the Forward exam, options are available for schools to minimize the time necessary for these assessments, should they choose to take advantage of them. Schools can reduce the amount of non-mandated standardized testing they commit to throughout the school year, as in the case of the MAP tests taken three times per year.
These alternatives allow students to focus on their classes and other essential skills, such as typing, but they also allow schools to avoid the punishments that come with a simple opt-out of state-mandated tests. By reducing the time students are required to take standardized tests, schools open up time for students to use the computer labs.
If schools do not set aside dedicated time for kids to learn technology skills in school computer labs, where constant teacher supervision and assistance is guaranteed, many kids will simply not learn to type as effectively as is needed for the modern day. It is our opinion that prioritizing standardized tests over these necessary skills is a mistake. In order to provide elementary school students with the best possible education, Atwater and Lake Bluff should make the choice to reduce the amount of standardized testing and go back to providing students with dedicated time in computer labs to learn to type, as well as practice skills necessary for life in the 21st century.