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Writer's Block: Taking testing to the playground

By Caitlin Vandewater
On February 26, 2013

As part of the never-ending battle to bring our education system up in world rankings, schools across America are going to serious lengths to improve test scores. While I have never been a fan of standardized tests, I understand that testing our students is the only accurate way to measure how well they are learning, and perhaps more importantly, how teachers are teaching. Yes, it's important to set a standard for teachers and students to aim for, but I don't necessarily condone the mentality that teachers have to "teach the test."

Tuesday Feb. 19, The New York Times ran a story about how schools across the country are now using gym class as way to teach kids vocabulary and geography, as well as health and science terms. 

Gym class has traditionally been viewed as a time where kids get to blow off steam and give their brains a break. In popular culture, gym class is used as a battleground between jocks and geeks. It's a popularity proving-ground where brawn always beats brains, but it looks like educators across the country are looking to change that.

According to the article, the shift to doing more teaching in gym class comes from three places: new standards for math and English, the desire to incorporate more health lessons in curriculums and the need for more well-rounded gym teachers. By incorporating more academics into gym class, schools are able to give gym teachers more of a purpose and potentially increase their test scores. Higher test scores usually mean more federal funding for states and schools each year. 

I'm no expert in teaching, but I think there's a reason some of the first things we learn are set to song or involve our bodies in some way or another. Think of the alphabet. Not everyone can remember that Q comes after P without reciting part of the alphabet song. I still use my fingers to multiply by nines. Some of my best friends still don't know right from left without making an "L" with their hands. The fact is, we forget our bodies are as much a learning tool as our books and math equations.

 As is expected, many parents are concerned bringing academics into gym classes will do more harm than good. While I am nowhere near being a parent, I can see where their concerns stem from. We are an incredibly test-oriented society, and unfortunately it puts a lot of pressure on children and teens to perform well, not only for the sake of their teachers, but also our global ranking. Bringing pop quizzes into physical activities could add just another burden onto students, especially ones who struggle with normal classroom activities. 

Again, I'm no expert on the state of our education system, but I do know that as a society, we put a lot of pressure on our youth to perform well on tests. In the time I've been in college, the minimum test scores for many colleges have increased. If I were to apply for the Brockport Honors program now, I wouldn't make it in because my cumulative SAT scores are too low. Granted, this change also has to do with increasing the competitiveness of the program, but that doesn't change the fact that because I am bad at tests, I probably would have been denied access to the program. In a time where obtaining an entry-level position is sometimes dependent on a bachelor's degree, it seems that we're making it progressively harder for students of all knowledge ranges to make it into college. 

I understand the quality of our education system may not be what it used to be, but I think something many neglect to take into account is that kids need to be excited about learning, not forced into it. Mixing physical activity and academics is a good way to switch up the way kids learn, especially if it's implemented at an early age.

Our lifelong journeys with learning aren't solely measured by test scores. Our personal and physical experiences play a huge role in how we interact and shape the world. Ultimately, good grades can only get you so far. If you can't apply what you've learned, what's the point of learning it? Shouldn't we encourage kids to try new ways of learning, instead of focusing solely on raising national rankings? 

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