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What Happens When You Outlaw Standardized Tests?

One country is leading the world in educational achievements. They have created a system that nurtures problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

They have developed classrooms where teachers rarely lecture for full class periods, but instead, allows students to determine their own weekly goals and chose the tasks they will work on… at their own pace.

Despite the autonomy placed in the hands of the learner and a wide language-gap (nearly 50 percent of the student population does not speak the native language as their mother tongue), this country’s students are the top-ranking on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessments) among developed nations.

Who is this country and what are they doing?

The country is Finland. Their strategies are many, but ultimately, Finland has actively worked to *decentralize* education.

This means that they have stripped their system of standardized tests.

They have pared down their national standards… significantly! (For example, previous curriculum documents exceeded 700 pages. Today, their math curriculum is less than ten pages.) And, they have given autonomy to the local schools by heavily investing in teacher training, then *trusting* their teachers to make decisions about how to educate their youth.

In essence, they are doing the exact opposite of what we are doing here in the United States.

The following are highlights that I have taken from Linda Darling-Hammond’s article, “Steady Work: How Finland Is Building a Strong Teaching and Learning System” (See also, “What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success.” at: http://bit.ly/dcNTmM.).

  • “Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards.” Yes, you read that correctly. It does say *lean* national standards!
  • “Finnish education policies are a result of four decades of systematic, mostly intentional, development that has created a culture of diversity, trust, and respect with Finnish society and within its education system in particular…” I can just hear the teachers reading this breathing a sigh of, “Oh, wouldn’t that be nice!”
  • “Finland maintains one exam prior to attending university: the matriculation exam… Although it is not required for graduation or entry into a university, it is common practice for students to take this set of four open-ended exams that emphasize problem-solving, analysis, and writing.” Employers here in the United States would salivate over students who had been trained and encouraged to develop problem-solving and analytical skills!

These are just a few of many reforms adopted by Finland, but if the United States could manage to embrace these few changes to their system, imagine how much more satisfying the teaching profession would become?

Imagine how much more engaged students would be in their education? Imagine how much more competitive our students could be in a global economy where information and technology are changing our world at warp-speed?

From my own experience as a classroom teacher and the daily feedback we hear from teachers and parents, there seems to be a wide consensus that *the system* is oppressive, draining, and standing in the way of doing what we know is best for our youth. I hope to see some of these changes in our education system at some point in the future.

For now, however, we must continue to walk the line between where the system is and how we function WITHIN that system and where we want that system to go. The only way we begin to “right that ship” is if we begin exploring real possibilities for reform.

-Susan Kruger

 


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