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Testing: Skills or Content?

In his book, Cultural Literacy, E. D. Hirsch writes about his concern that our children are growing up without committing to memory those bits of information that are a part of our culture—the bits of information that make a person “well-rounded” and “well-educated.” According to Hirsch, this is because in the last few decades schools have been putting primary importance on teaching skills rather than traditional content.

Instead of Hirsch’s theory, could it be because passing on content is NOT best achieved through memorizing isolated pieces of information in order to pass tests?

The fact is that content is not a problem when children are given the tools they need to acquire it. Most schools are set up to deliver content only to those children who are skilled at rote learning. Those who learn in other ways are not being served. Rita Dunn, a pioneer in customized learning, concluded after years of working with Learning Styles: “Most children can master the same content, how they master it is determined by their individual styles,” David Elkind, psychologist and professor or child development gave this advice: “It’s not that we shouldn’t have expectations and standards, but we need to recognize that children don’t all learn in the same way at the same rate.”

Dunn further recommends, “Rather than eliminating testing, it seems sensible to require that teachers teach using learning styles and then give the students opportunities to demonstrate how well they learn. We should strive to transform all of our schools into learning style schools.”

For the real world students need to learn skills and content, so why not provide both? Rather than simply piling on information, and giving the A’s and B’s to those who have a facility for “memorizing for the test,” we can empower all children to learn—whatever content we decide is important—by drawing upon the inherent intelligence of each child.

It is important that parents and teachers become knowledgeable about learning styles, in order to ensure that your children / students become eager, self-directed, successful learners, not only for school learning but, more importantly, for real life.

Adapted from Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Willis and Hodson Copyright 2020 by VKHodson & MPelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute •,

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