To improve education, bring back play

September 10, 2019

For nearly two decades, school test scores have driven the debate about school quality nationwide.

The results of last year’s testing are in; overall, not much has changed. While Cape students generally scored above state averages, that turns out to be a low bar.

Statewide, more than half of all students in grades 3-8 are below grade level in math. At Cape, 60 percent of students tested proficient, meaning they perform at grade level or better. 

That still means 2 of every 5 students are below grade level in math when they reach 11th grade.

When is our community – parents, teachers, school board, administration – going to say these results are not acceptable?  

Whatever we are doing to improve education for every child – at a cost of more than $15,000 – is just not working fast enough. Students don’t do better as they get more education; for the most part, they do worse.

If there’s one bright spot in Cape’s test scores this year, it is the essay section of the SAT.  Students who took the test two years ago reported a time crunch; they had not been able to finish. Listening to student experiences led to teachers giving more timed essay tests so students had more practice organizing their thoughts and writing faster.

Essay scores jumped 9 points.

Beyond listening to students, parents and educators should consider Finnish schools, ranked No. 1 worldwide for childhood education. 

A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed notes in Finland, educators and parents alike believe “the work of a child is play” – including 15 minutes of outdoor recess every hour of every school day.

We think Finland may be onto something.

“Instead of annual, high-stakes standardized tests, Finnish children are assessed all day, every day, by a much more accurate instrument: trusted teachers who are selected, trained and respected as elite professionals,” the op-ed states.

Periodic testing can provide insight into weaknesses in our education system. But when testing produces high stress and two decades of mediocre scores, testing is not the answer.

It’s time to try something new. Why not bring back play?


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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