Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Evaluating Students

It is my belief that colleges and schools in the US have been spending too much time developing "creativity" in their students. I am not against creativity, however, I believe that every child needs to have a strong grasp of the basic mathematical, scientific, and sociological concepts, before the child can move onto expanding his or her mind. Unfortunately, both as a tutor for freshman math and science at Tech, and a TA for a freshman CS class, I noticed American educated students found it extremely hard to apply fundamental concepts. Now most of these kids were really smart. Once I did teach them how to work a certain theorem, they rarely struggled with that concept again. But the fact is, they were never taught these simple concepts to begin with. And I am not talking about calculus, which many high schools in the US expect colleges to cover. I am talking about simple trigonometry and Newtonian laws.

Of course, there is a slight bias in my tutoring experience, since it being voluntary, only the weakest students would probably show up. Also, non-american education tends to rely on an instructor on a lot more, possibly causing academically stronger non-american students to show up as opposed to american students. However, I have even noticed this amongst my peers in class. They are all extremely intelligent, but lacking fundamental skills an average high school education should have taught them.

Similar to this is an increasing disdain for traditional teaching methods, such as tests. One direct consequence of this is colleges constantly reducing the importance of standardized tests such as the SAT and SAT 2's when reviewing admission applications. Again, I am not saying tests are the perfect teaching tool. However, tests are historically, an effective teaching tool, and most of their replacements, do not have much scientific or historic evidence backing the claim that they are better than simple tests. This does not mean that they are not better, just that there is frequently hardly any reason to believe they are. In fact, as this article in the NY Times shows, the SAT's are a very decent indicator of the quality of the student.

Basically, my point is while it is good to experiment, all experimentation does not need to be preceded by revolution.