This speech suggests our students are no more satisfied than we are with the regime of standardized testing. In the classroom, I once discussed this kind of success with my 8th graders. The reports had come in and we had done “outstanding” on the History test. Best in the district and as high as anyone else in the state. The Principal came to congratulate us and we enjoyed our success that afternoon.

The next day, however, we discussed how many questions students had to answer correctly to achieve this success. Less than 50%. They wanted to know why so little was expected of them. This is my concern… if we don’t find a way to resist the most virulent pieces of the testing regime, we’re robbing our students of knowing true success. Erica Goldson, Valedictorian at Coxxackie-Athens High School, knows this ugly truth too.

Her full remarks are available at America via Erica Blogspot. Here’s just an excerpt to show what she thinks of the success she achieved:

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker.

And, in the effort to partner criticism with constructive ideas, watch this short video from Professor Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard. He saw the dark shadow of memorization of facts with little understanding of concepts in his classroom and decided to do things differently. One of my favorite pieces in the clip shows students talking to one another about torque to identify the right answer to Professor Mazur’s questions. A young man asks., “how do you know that?” Our students need to know the answer to that question as well as to have the drive to ask it of themselves.

Without that question, what we know is shrinking each day and it’s happening in our classrooms too.