Sam Jones: School-time efficiency

Reading the articles in the paper regarding whether or not our school district should cut select standardized tests from our academic program got me thinking about school-time efficiency.

The question I asked myself was why we, or anyone, might want to eliminate standardized testing?

The answers are easy to understand. Standardized tests serve no purpose to our students (they also take other tests for their personal records). Standardized tests absorb valuable school time to prepare and take the tests.

And finally, the new unfunded state mandates call on us to do it all online whether or not we have the technology in place to do so. So these standardized tests are not beneficial to student achievement, time consuming and costly.

We can jump to the conclusion that without standardized tests, we could get more done in a school year without the interruption in curriculum. I think every teacher in our district would agree. But I’m still not satisfied. I sense there is a lot more opportunity than this, much more as I found after digging around the world a bit.  

I chose to look at what has been uniformly accepted as the best school system in the world both in time efficiency, cost effectiveness and student achievement.

We are talking about Finland. Finland has the highest level of student achievement in the world, and it does so with one of the shortest number of student school days per year.

The Finnish love their summers for obvious reasons and have built a system that offers a study hard, play hard balance to the calendar year. They pack 30 lessons or more of 45 minutes each into a normal five-day school week (12- to 15-year-olds) and have a reasonably high level of homework each night. Seven to 8-year-olds have 19 lessons per week plus homework. They accomplish a great deal of learning that is both deep and comprehensive into roughly 640 hours per year.

They recognized decades ago that a student who has an appropriate amount of down time and a natural balance to their schedule has the capacity to learn more in a shorter period of time.

Now compare this to the U.S. and to our fine state of Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Education mandates in their archaic 1963 Attendance Law that students in first through fifth grades attend no less than 968 hours of study per year, for sixth- through eighth-graders it’s 1,056 hours per year.  Perhaps this rule was made in sync with the Federal “No Child Left Behind” … on the street … during the day … while mom and dad have to work.

I see room for improvement in the time efficiency of our school year. I see a school day that has many hours of embedded unproductive time. There is no blame, just the reality of our situation as it comparatively stands today.

Yes, I’ll say it — I think our students have the capacity to gain real knowledge, deep understanding and show higher achievement in a shorter amount of time. I don’t think the Finnish are just genetically smarter.

Getting rid of standardized testing may be just the first step toward our own study hard, play hard school year. Let’s begin a brave and bold move to become more efficient both in our school day and our school year.

Sam Jones

Parent to Bennett, 11, and Cooper, 13 Steamboat Springs

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