What does test measure?

Published 4:39 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2008

By Staff
Math is not my thing. Math was not my thing in high school or college.
I managed to pass my math classes, algebra barely. In college, I took every science course I could take to avoid math. Don't get me wrong, I think basic math skills are necessary for living and doing things like keeping a checkbook balanced or measuring a window for a curtain.
However, algebra, calculus and even geometry have not played a role in my grownup life. While math caused me to stress and to sometimes feel like a failure when I was a student, now it bothers me not one bit because I understand it is not my gift, not the talent the Lord intended me to use in this life.
Reading, writing, literature are my subjects. They were my subjects when I was a teenager and when I was an adult student.
Put me in an English or literature class and I was in heaven. Reading a short story or a poem and dissecting it, discussing symbolism and the author's style was pure enjoyment.
The grammar rules associated with writing came naturally to me. I could put together correct sentences without a second thought. Essays were fun. When I landed in a high school journalism class, I felt alive and successful, like I could do something well, an important thing for a young person just finding her way in the world.
Of course reading and writing are things I would have done even if they were not required in school. I feel this way because this is my gift, the thing God gave me to use and enjoy.
Knowing this, I wonder how I would fair if I was a high school student in 2008. Could I pass the graduation exam, especially the new one just approved by the state board of education? I might be fine on the reading and writing parts but the stress associated with math - well, I might blow it completely.
And if I had a tough time, a struggle getting my diploma, would I ever return to college as an adult. Or would my feelings of failure keep me from daring to try?
I know it is important to expect big things from our children, to push them to excel. However, I don't think it is fair or sensible to expect everyone to have the same gifts, be good at the same things.
Some will not struggle with any subject - great for them, that's their gift. Others may find math as easy as breathing, but fall apart when they have to write a creative essay.
There are students for whom writing is simple and math feels like torture. Still others may have skills, gifts far removed from anything considered very academic.
Why is it not possible to identify the gifts, the talents students possess and then give them opportunities to experience bringing those gifts to life?
If we want children to grow into happy, successful adults who enjoy their lives, shouldn't we encourage them in the direction of their heart's calling? And that direction may not take all of them to a college campus.
Some may find great satisfaction in repairing a car, paving a road, roofing a house, sweeping a floor, collecting garbage, or hundreds of other jobs that might not require advanced math or a four-year college degree but are nonetheless of just as much value to society and should be recognized as such.
Could we be making some students feel like failures because of a test, which in the grand scheme of a lifetime matters very little?
I understand we need accountability and that quality education is important for the future, but finding and following your bliss is just as important if we want a world of happy, peaceful people.
Shouldn't whether or not that is happening for students as they leave school for life in the bigger world be at least part of the test that measures the success of our education system?
Nancy Blackmon is a columnist whose column appears regularly in The Andalusia Star News.