This takes time because learning is messy and real learning is really messy, and yet today's test and punish accountability is squeezing this kind of learning out. Ironically, it is the skill & drill kinds of learning that standardized test measure that are taking precedent over real learning. This is exactly why parents need to be concerned when they see rising test scores.
Many teachers feel compelled to teach to the test in fear of the threats or because they're enticed by the bribes. What's sad is high test scores may give teachers their merit pay and politicians their ever rising scores while giving the students nothing they really need.
How do we derail this bastardized kind of education reform?
We have to abandon our mania for reducing everything to numbers. Yes we need measures for learning, but they don't have to be reductionist or competitive in nature.
So if grades and test scores are not the answer to "How do we measure learning?", then what is?
The answer: Real learning is found in the children, not the data. If you want to know if your child is attending an excellent school and is receiving an exemplary education, watch them when they are not in school.
Do they come home excited about what they did that day? Not only can they read, but do they want to read? Do they talk your ear off about the discussions they had with their peers? Are they rifling through the garage or kitchen seeking out materials for their very own science experiments? Do they relish the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and rethink their perceptions and understandings? Can they take what they learned and apply it to solve new problems?
Perhaps John Dewey makes the best case for learning in a context and for a purpose in his book Experience and Education:
What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul: loses his appreciation of things worth while, of the values to which these things are relative; if he loses desire to apply what he has learned and, above all, loses the ability to extract meaning from his future experiences as they occur?
The good news is that kids tell us all the time when school loses its relevance: "When am I ever going to use this?" or "Does this count on the report card?" or "Will this be on the test?" These statements indicate the kids are lost, and rather than blaming the kids for saying it, we need to be thankful they are giving us the heads up - we need to take this feedback and reconnect the kids to their learning. Until we do so, nothing else will mean much.
The most important attitude we can instill in children is the desire to go on learning. When we fail to make learning relevant, in a context and for a purpose, we fail kids more than they could ever fail us.