When schools become exclusively focused on MCAS scores as the measure of their quality, important skills can be neglected. Those include skills essential in the modern workplace. Think of where you work: Do employees spend all their time huddled at their own desks, engaged in solitary work, like they were filling out a standardized test?
There's nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test adequately measures knowledge students need to absorb. Schools have been using tests for far longer than we can remember. The MCAS tests, which are still controversial 15 years after they became required by state law, have been effective mostly to the extent they test what good teachers have taught.
But they don't test everything that is taught and certainly not everything that should be taught. That's a problem. When schools become exclusively focused on MCAS scores as the measure of their quality, important skills can be neglected.
Those include skills essential in the modern workplace. Think of where you work: Do employees spend all their time huddled at their own desks, engaged in solitary work, like they were filling out a standardized test? More likely they are moving about, sharing ideas, imagining solutions, collaborating with co-workers, finding, analyzing and using information.
The ability to think creatively and work with others on common goals are essential skills in the workplace of today and may be even more important in the workplace of tomorrow. Business leaders cite critical thinking, problem solving and oral communication as equally important. But those skills aren't tested on the MCAS, so it's easy for teachers to neglect them, especially in schools where students are struggling with the "basics."
Thus, time that could be spent on group projects gives way to more time on drills. Arts and music are squeezed out of the curriculum. Extra-curricular activities like debate, drama and service organizations - cited by countless successful adults as having taught them invaluable skills - fall victim to tight school budgets.
Redirecting public education to teach creative skills is a large undertaking, but the least the state can do is recognize schools that are, in Gov. Deval Patrick's words, "educating the whole child."
That's what the "Creative Challenge Index" would do under a bill now before the Legislature. Proposed by Rep. Dan Bosley, D-North Adams, and the Mass. Advocates for the Arts, Sciences & Humanities, the bill would establish a commission made up of business, community and political leaders that would create an index for measuring the opportunities schools provide for creative work.
Researchers are just beginning to understand the profound influence education in art and music can have on academic learning. Business leaders are increasingly convinced that the creative skills needed to generate ideas, test them and bring them to life are essential to success.
Education that goes "back to basics" isn't enough when today's students must compete for tomorrow's jobs with top achievers from around the world. It's time we started putting creativity back into the curriculum - and recognizing the schools that do it well.