When I moved to Iowa from Minnesota, the Iowa Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) didn’t test me before it issued me a driver’s license. It took into account my long history of driving and my clean record and determined that I did not need to take either a written or driving test. I did a quick vision check, took one of those goofy photos, and I was all set.
Imagine, however, if the MVD, before it would issue me a license, wanted me to sit through a series of classes intended to ‘teach’ me how to operate a car and drive safely. I would have been completely annoyed. ‘Test me now!’ I would have exclaimed vociferously. ‘I already know how to do this! Stop wasting my time!’ By now you’re probably nodding your head in agreement, knowing that you’d do the same thing in my situation. Although you’d rather not have to do the written and driving tests again, you’d definitely rather be tested than sit through hours of instruction on material you already know.
Unfortunately this is exactly what happens to our nation’s schoolchildren on a daily basis. Millions of students regularly experience curricula and lessons that address content and concepts with which they’re already familiar. It’s not just the ‘talented and gifted’ kids; there are plenty of students who know the material in a particular learning unit before they even start. They’re just never given the chance to demonstrate their knowledge ahead of time. Nor do they have the opportunity to request to be pre-tested.
What a colossal waste of time this is. Rather than the joy of wrestling with and thinking about new material, students suffer through yet another hour ‘learning’ old information. Rather than working with children who are eager, interested learners, teachers suffer through yet another group of disengaged students.
I wonder why we don’t care more about this? It’s one thing to cover the required curriculum. It’s quite another to have students cover the curriculum despite the fact that they already know it. As a former eighth grade teacher, I know how difficult it is to differentiate instruction. But it’s relatively easy to do some simple pre-testing and at least make an attempt at altering a ‘one size fits all’ lesson plan. If more teachers did this on a regular basis, they might be surprised at how much instructional time they gained back during the year. And of course they’d also have better baseline data with which to assess student learning growth for each curricular unit. And did I mention the message of respect for students that accompanies the practice of pre-testing?
Why don’t we do more pre-testing? Why is it so hard to get teachers to buy into this?