Test scores only tell part of the story

Worsened performance by students who sat the Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examinations this year was met with understandable disappointment.

Standardized achievement tests are generally designed to provide a normalized indicator of a student’s knowledge and skills, and performance on such tests can provide useful information in crafting modalities within an educational system.

But test results only tell part of the story.

What these tests are not designed to do is measure the efficacy of a school or a teacher, nor are they crafted to provide indicators for the range of knowledge and skills a student may possess outside of what is demonstrated on any given exam.

Moreover, the extent to which our country’s educational philosophy is rooted in a focus on standardized test performance over building the whole mind through a focus on critical thinking, integrative learning and civic responsibility, is the extent to which we miss critical opportunities to shape youngsters into adults who can contribute progressively to their personal growth and to the nation.

What test results do not tell us is all the social and biological factors that contribute to a student’s performance, much of which could be mitigated if we as a nation had a deeper understanding and appreciation of what education is supposed to produce.

In general, when Bahamians think of the purpose of education, the emphasis is almost always on finding a good job.

Yes, finding a good job and being able to offer useful levels of productivity on that job can hardly be accomplished without a well-rounded education and a firm grasp of the fundamentals therein.

But if we are to change the unsatisfactory trajectory of scholastic performance in The Bahamas, we will need to change our often narrow perspective on why education is valuable and essential.

Education is broader than instruction and the transmission of information and skills, and it is more expansive than what can be accomplished on an exam via rote memorization.

The Latin roots of the word education are “educare”; to train or to mold and “educere”; to draw or to lead out.

The latter root is the foundation that is often under-appreciated in our society, which is that true education leads one out of ignorance and darkness of consciousness, such that it enables an individual to know and understand one’s place in the world and one’s purpose and potential for growth and the common good.

When we see youth in our society behaving in a manner that betrays their own humanity, part of the problem will almost always be a lack of true education — not only for the youngster acting out but the adults who misnurtured him or her.

By the same token, we typically view education as the function of teaching students what to think, as opposed to fundamentally teaching students to think; there is a quintessential difference.

As such, many Bahamians emerge from childhood into adulthood primarily dogmatic and insular in their world view, having not been nurtured to think for themselves and to develop the ability to reason and to discern fact from fiction.

In assessing the educational level of the citizenry, it is important to properly contextualize test results, and to look deeper into what a Bahamian education today means so as to determine how to make it more meaningful.

When more Bahamians become educated, they will begin to see themselves and their country in a different light.

They will begin to recognize the possibilities available to change their circumstances, regardless of the conditions under which they were brought into the world.

They will begin to value their fellow man and understand that to hurt another person is to hurt oneself, and to hurt oneself is to limit the world’s ability for greatness.

Education enables us to know and understand that greatness truly does lie within us all, and is dimmed only when we do not know it, understand it and respect it.

If we begin to see education differently, we as parents, educators and policymakers might respond to education in our country differently.

And hopefully over time, that changed response can translate into the changes in levels and quality of education our nation needs.

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