The View from Japan: Common Core is a Disaster in the Making

“What many supporters of Common Core ignore is that the “rigorous” high-stakes testing approach that they wish to impose on our children has been experimented with in many other nations, and has been a complete failure. Once in place it dominates all instruction, turning schools into test prep factories, and students into test-taking machines.”

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I’m a full-time University teacher, living and working in Japan since 1994.  We have high-stakes exams given throughout the nation each winter, which students must pass to enter the high school or college they wish to attend. Students spend years preparing for these tests, because the stakes are so high.

One of the things I notice each year is that many Japanese students get 30 to 50% of the answers wrong. Sometimes answers are close but test makers are looking for the “exact” right answer. If the student spells a word wrong they may receive half credit or no points. Why are test makers so strict with spelling? Because these kinds of high-stakes tests are norm referenced, designed to rank and sort students, nothing more.

Those who design entrance exams in Asia have purposefully made the tests really hard and expect high rates of failure- have designed the system for it- cause the purpose is to create a bell curve, not to help all students succeed or learn. The exams are designed to select out the top 25% who studied the hardest, who put the time in to accurately memorize the information correctly.

As a result, most Asian junior and senior high schools are focused on test-prep, not deep thinking, skill development or creative learning. Both my sons have gone through Japanese public schools. From 7th grade onwards, the purpose of most of their instruction has been to prepare them for the high-stakes entrance exams of high school and college.

Right now, my youngest son is at the end of his second year of middle school. He leaves at 8am each morning, usually gets home around 6pm, has dinner and then goes to the cram school (juku) nearby. He returns in the evening between 1o and 11:30pm, has a bath, watches a few youtube videos and goes to sleep.

There are of course many breaks during the day, and that’s what keeps him going. He’s got a great sense of humor and many friends. He’s adapted to the “rigor” of the system, and has been in a good mood since last Autumn when his test scores improved. Students who rise to the top with high stakes testing frequently start to enjoy the study, cause they are succeeding. Unfortunately, for those who fall below “average” it can be a living hell.

What’s also very concerning is that because of the massive amount of information students have to memorize, most don’t have time to develop useful skills. With English education my sons are some of the few who can actually understand English media (like movies and music) and use the language to communicate. Other Japanese students are just memorizing the vocabulary and grammar, basically trying to cram English dictionaries into their heads.

As I wrote in another essay, this perfectionistic test-obsessed culture of schools in Asia helps to train obedience and hard work, but has a dark side. In the NY Times, Yale instructor Se-Woong Koo described the endless pressure in South Korea as tantamount to “child abuse,” associated with high rates of suicide, physical illness and severe depression. In China, (see this CNN news video ), the competition is so intense that some students have been hooked up to IV drips in their classrooms, so that they can study from early morning till late at night, without passing out from exhaustion.

What many supporters of Common Core ignore is that the “rigorous” high-stakes testing approach that they wish to impose on our children has been experimented with in many other nations, and has been a complete failure. Once in place it dominates all instruction, turning schools into test prep factories, and students into test-taking machines…
read original…https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/the-view-from-japan-common-core-is-a-disaster-in-the-making/

Dawna Bowles published an article on WordPress.com.
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