BY HOWARD KARLITZ

As an educator with 40-plus years of experience in both the private and public sectors, I’ve witnessed test score mania spread like a California wildfire, leaving behind a wasteland devoid of gifted, creative and effective teaching methodologies.

The No Child Left Behind law sparked the conflagration.

As this flawed philosophy morphed into a flawed operational system, test scores became the only seemingly rational way to evaluate it.

From the very first day of the school year, educators know that scores are the Holy Grail, and that all instruction is geared to a series of tests that loom many months away.

Teachers and students at all levels are now locked into a daily grind of prepackaged, teacher-proof instruction. And nobody up there in bureaucratic heaven seems to grasp the madness of it all.

As a result of this paradigm shift, students are no longer learning to read but learning to take a reading test.

They are no longer learning science or math or writing, but learning to take a science, math or writing test.

And the difference is profound.

The former involves creative thinking, higher-order reasoning skills and the potential to instill a love for the subject matter.

The latter involves regurgitation of rote-learned material that will not only soon be forgotten, but has little or no connection or relevance with other rote-learned, test-centered material.

The days of an integrated curriculum, where the learning process flows among disciplines, has passed. Sadly, it is this very process from which true innovation is born.

If aspects of creativity involve the ability to see the relationship between variables in diverse disciplines, then teaching subjects within isolated, cage-like, test-driven milieus limits the possibility of generating innovative, interdisciplinary ideas. And this limitation applies to teachers as well as students.

I am not opposed to standardized tests.

In fact, I consider them to be an important tool in assessing progress. But the use of their results to assess teacher performance runs counter to everything I believe creative instruction is about.

No two teachers should be compelled to teach the same test-defined lesson at the same time in the same manner simply because they are in the same school in the same district.

Then why standardized tests at all? Simply stated, for the purpose of improving instruction.

At the end of the year, let teachers meet at grade or departmental level conferences to discuss what has worked for some and not worked for others.

By sharing this information with a competent principal in a professional threat-free environment, work can begin on replicating positive practices on a school-wide basis and restructuring or eliminating those practices that did not yield desired results.

In the end, it is the school community that is improved, not necessarily test scores.

And it is the student who ultimately benefits the most, as an environment of creative instruction begins taking form, shifting from a competitive to a collaborative dynamic.

Karlitz is part of the Horace Mann-Lincoln Institute. He has also served as principal, director and headmaster of the Meadow Oaks School.