About Emily Madden

Emily Madden graduated from the North American Montessori Center in 2011 with her International Montessori Teaching Diploma in Preschool and Kindergarten Montessori. She is the Head of School at Conway Montessori where she has taught for 10 years and attended preschool as a child.

Picture this, lush green fields and ancient ruins of magnificent structures gazing over the tops of houses on the lanes.  This is my view on the train from York to London.  My family is from Yorkshire and I had the delight of spending time with them during my brief stop.  However, I’m left contemplating a pressing topic- testing.

The issues of testing go beyond our boarders.  What should our children be required to know in order to move to the next level?  What becomes a greater issue is what is done with the information that is collected from the testing.

According to The National Curriculum, , children in the UK are assessed periodically in “English, maths and science.”  These assessments begin around age 6 or 7 and occur again at age 11.  What’s more, BBC News reports that children will learn some concepts at an earlier age.  The changes bring with them lots of concern for the families of younger children in England.  Children who do not pass the exam are give two chance to re-sit the exam.  This year was the first year to use the new exam and the number of students that passed plummeted from 80% in 2015 to 53% in 2016.

Coming from a Montessori perspective where students are observed daily rather than tested, this brings concerns.  The US has been working to rewrite its curriculum as well, introducing students to more complex topics at younger ages.  I’ve even heard people refer to kindergarten as “the new first grade” due to material that is covered.  But is this benefitting our students?  So much of our education system rests on standardized testing and making sure we cover the test material.  I remember having to take practice exams every few weeks to get ready for the end of year exam and to make sure I knew what I was doing.  Students are learning how to be test takers and not necessarily retaining the content.

Students are learning how to be test takers and not necessarily retaining the content. Click To Tweet

With our students going untested, there is no stress or pressure to exceed expectations in a short amount of time.  School funding and teacher performance is judged by how students do one day a year with hundreds of questions in hour time chunks.  This cannot be accurate.  There has to be a better way than subjecting our students to such anxiety and pressure.

How do we ensure our students are learning without exams? Click To Tweet

So, how do we do it?  How do we ensure our students are learning without exams?  We look to the individual students and their teachers.  I believe it all comes back to the individualized curriculum that Montessori offers and well trained teachers.  Kids are interested in what they are learning because they have control.  Likewise, teachers are trained in observing and assessing where to guide children next. When children do not feel pressured or forced, they are more likely to retain the information.  Teachers spend a great deal of time with their students.  They should be the judge of what they are learning and if they are meeting expectations.  No two teachers are the same no matter what curriculum you ask them to use.  We all have our own way of doing things, of remembering, of solving a problem.  It’s hard to put those in a box and say one is right and one is wrong.

We look to the individual students and their teachers. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, our whole education system hangs on these exams.  Going to specific colleges, or even college at all, rests on how young students do on ACTs and SATs.  End of course exams and yearly exams determine whether students get placed in remedial classes, held back a year, or qualify for advanced placement.  So much of our education is determined by how we do in a snapshot of time.  As the tests change and become more difficult, our curriculum has to change, forcing kids to learn what they might not be ready for.  This add a whole new stressor to the equation:  results and their effects.

I cannot express the importance of individuality enough.  We have to let kids be kids and we have to meet them where they are.  Let them be hands on.  Allow them some extra time with a particular topic of interest.  Give them the opportunity to find satisfaction with their work.  Our lawmakers and those that assess the exams need to look to the teachers who are in the trenches with these kids day in and day out.  Take a step back and rethink how we judge success in the classroom and you may be surprised by what you find.

Further Reading

To read more about changes to the UK National Curriculum and how their students did, check out:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/534658/Information_for_parents_-_2016_NCT_results_at_the_end_of_key_stage_2.pdf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-28989714

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/11521061/Children-who-fail-English-and-maths-exams-must-take-re-sits-Tories-say.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-3671202

Test

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