Goals of EducationExpat has already posted on this issue and I agree that the reason the public schools teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, etc. is to create well rounded citizens who are capable of contributing to a democratic society and to that society's economy. I know, it's very industrial - put kid in to building, add skills and information, and out comes SUPER CITIZEN, or some sort of citizen... well may be not. Our state - at least it was our state when he lived here in Washington -has what they call Essential Academic Learning, or EALRs for short, that describe how the schools are going to ensure that SUPER CITIZEN comes out of our machine. The EALRs are broken down into Grade Level Expectations, or GLEs, that describe what a third grader is expected to do by the end of third grade in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. The really slick part of this system is that the GLEs for third grade are mostly an extension of the second grade's GLEs and so on. So, when my third graders take their high stakes test test in the spring - the WASL -it isn't so much a third grade test, but a K-3 test. I'm not a big fan of the test, but understand why we MUST :-) give it, and have ideas for less stressful, more economically responsible, and useful assessment. But that is for another, less interesting post :-).
Anyway, because of my clientele - third graders who should be in fourth grade but are actually doing second grade work because, well, I don't have the time or the energy and I'd like to enter this school year somewhat sane - I have had to do some modification of the above stated goals of the education I expose my students to. I tend to focus more on individual GROWTH towards and beyond the GLEs than I do on actually meeting the GLEs. The reason is simple: though I have the lowest kids in third grade at my school, they are all different. They learn differently, have different interests, gifts, etc, etc. (All the homeschoolers out there have done a magnificent job of pointing this out!)
Unfortunately, the WASL and other high stakes tests do not take into consideration the growth a child makes in his or her education. Child A may come to my class ready to move on to the next grade, grow very little, pass the test, and I look like a great teacher. On the other hand, Child B comes to my class, has never been in a building with running water or electricity - I've had one of these! - doesn't speak the language, is illiterate in his home language. I work hard, he works hard, his parents get him to come to school and by the end of the year he's reading at a first grade level, doesn't pass the test, and I look like I've sat around and picked my nose with the rest of them! Who actually got the better education? Does the test paint an accurate picture of me as an educator?
Gosh, my hope for the little boy who walked from the hills in central Mexico to central Washington isn't for him to run for President, graduate from college, or start a business - though he might be able to do some of these if he keeps getting the support I gave him. My hope is that he first of all finishes high school. Hopefully he goes on to get some sort of post high school training and keep a steady job for the next forty or fifty years. My biggest concern is that he stays out of trouble. My goal for him is that his children go to college - may be a two year, may be a four year.