Saturday, November 26, 2005

Testing Education

CLICK TO READ: Extra Points for Effort - Washington Post

This is a pet peeve of mine. Another article about "No Child Left Behind" and new testing models.
"The trouble is, there isn't any evidence that American schools or American teachers are making great progress in the classroom. On the contrary, the results of recent standardized tests show that on average American children are making very little progress. There are exceptions -- but mostly in the states, districts and schools that have been using regular assessments and accountability standards the longest. Four years after its enactment, the No Child Left Behind law is no slam-dunk success, but the basic principles around which it was organized -- accountability, assessment, standards -- have not been disproved."
They may not have been disproved, but I would argue they are all but disproven. Everyone who remembers their own school years can usually agree on one thing: they hated tests. And they rarely "learned" much by studying for them. Why? Because they crammed to get a grade, memorized and reguritated information and then forgot everything they had crammed and memorized and regurgitated. The classes that actually taught you something had teachers who knew how to engage students and get their creative and intellectual juices flowing, how to motivate them want to learn, how to excite them about the incredibly interesting world and universe in which they live.

We will never fix the education problem by trying to "measure" success through tests. A bad lesson plan or a bad teacher will never be improved by another test. Tests are notoriously lacking in their ability to measure much of anything--other than a student's facility in taking tests.

Rather, we should be looking at how to excite children to want to learn. We should be finding ways to instill in our children a love of reading. We should be looking at ways to make what they are reading and learning relevant to their lives. We should find ways to make learning fun and creative and compelling. We should be looking at teachers who are successfully achieving these goals now. We should be reinventing "education", teaching "out of the box", rather than reinventing tests.

It's a lot harder to do what I am proposing than to come up with another testing model, but until we do, we will be forever designing new testing models that won't solve the problem.

SEE ALSO: Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S. - New York Times


Sean M. Madden said...

Thank you for this post, TUC. This is a pet peeve of mine as well.

But let us ask, Why would the US ruling elite want an educated citizenry?

What the politicians and their corporate backers require to maintain their hold on power is an ignorant populace which is technically adept at performing commodifed tasks amongst the laborers and in-the-corporate-box thinking amongst its "knowledge" (uncritically minded) workers.

So, before discussing educational strategy we must, first, ask all concerned what their educational objective is. Those of the ruling "economy-first" mindset -- meaning corporate-profit-driven economy, not a sustainable one which recognizes a higher ethos than maximization of shareholder value -- see technical training as most critical, ideally situated within a context devoid of unorthodox historical considerations, say of the Howard Zinn sort, which may trigger a reassessment of all we've been told.

From your and my points-of-view, we see a critical education as a prerequisite to this experiment we call democracy; but, if the last thing the corporate-political elite want is a true democracy, then they'll pursue different means to very different ends than you and I.

Sean (

The Unknown Candidate said...

Yes, yes, yes! Sean, you are, of course, exactly correct in your assessment. The irony is that since the power grab of the Bush administration we need a critically thinking populace more than ever. In my silly, idealistic way, I just wish more educators would start assessing things on their own. It doesn't take more money from government for educators to start thinking of ways to solve the problems themselves--or at least to start discussing the problems. I get the feeling that most secondary school teachers, especially once they are securely tenured, could care less. I'm convinced that the methods we use to educate teachers to teach are a huge part of the problem--College level education programs, for the most part I would guess, resort to the same "test taking" mentality.

So I ask you--as someone involved in the field, someone who has had a somewhat non-traditional education (my daughter went to St. Johns in Santa Fe, so I know their curriculum well), someone who is aware of all the problems, how do we begin to change the system? (I will not accept "we can't" as an answer!)

Maybe it will take no less than a visionary leader--in government or in the field of education--to set things in motion -- if so, we may have a very, very, long wait. There don't seem to be any visionaries jumping at the chance.

Sean M. Madden said...

You've no doubt noticed, TUC, that we've come full circle, that you're asking my What is to be done? question.

Paradoxically, as you've just pointed out, the very thing which is needed (a critically educated citizenry ... and, I'm far from certain, by the way, that SJC provides the proper model given the Straussian grip on the College) to get us out of this sociopolitical dilemma will not be ushered in by those who stand to lose.

The ruling corporate-political elite -- who in most cases lack a critical education themselves, but far more importantly democratic aspirations -- will never provide the prerequisite for their own undoing, just as the slave-owners of yesteryear forbade an education for their human holdings.

Therefore, this process of a critical education must be carried forward by those who have somehow managed to see beyond what we have passively imbibed since childhood, and which the citizenry of the United States has imbibed since before the country's inception.

Note the response to Thomas Paine's return to the US after his imprisonment in France. In short, Paine truly believed in the liberal principles which he propounded and which were critically important in the lead up to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, but which were not to be tolerated by the new ruling aristocracy, nor, indeed, by the American citizenry composed of Christian zealots.

Paine, who did so much to bring about American democracy, was too democratic for the new democratic nation. He would perhaps find himself even less popular today.

This phenomenon, I'm afraid, shall be the likely result of any revolution which is not based, at all levels, on a well-educated, participating citizenry.

As you know, I'm in search of a solution to this paradoxical situation in which we find ourselves. I'm not giving up either. Yet, the challenge is huge.

From my own personal experience, I have found, to my great dismay, that George Monbiot's motto atop his web site seems by and large the case:

"Tell people something they know already, and they will thank you for it. Tell them something new, and they will hate you for it."

Realizing this has been perhaps the greatest letdown of my life, and has cost me the closest of family and friends.

I recognize, too, that some welcome new information with open arms and a willingness to change their minds. I do not know whether such a propensity for inquiry is natural, learned, or otherwise acquired. However, judging from the curiosity of children, I would bet that such inquisitiveness is inherent within us all, but gets turned off in most by way of institutionalized living.

So, where do we go from here?

I think we must begin to rethink the entire political system, for a humble, and humbling, start.

The idea of representative democracy has lost a key historical justification for its existence in the Internet Age. Proximity to the State House is no longer a precluding factor for those whose living is made elsewhere. Modern communications technology enables us to share information with those near and far.

[An Aside: Since I placed a site meter on the blog this past Wednesday, the 23rd of November, I have had visitors from all around the US and UK, as well as from Malta, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Thailand, Slovakia and New Zealand who, for whatever reason, visited a 4-week-old personal blog.]

Our legislators are no longer responsive to the will of the people. On the contrary, they, like their executive-branch counterparts, deceive and manipulate their constituents (in name only). Since our representatives show no inclination of representing us, but rather serve only themselves and their corporate patrons, I suggest that we consider creative ways of doing without them.

This would solve a number of problems at once.

The citizenry would no longer be passive. They would be engaged in -- rather than locked out of -- the political system. Judging from my experience as an educator, where there is active engagement, education follows as a natural byproduct, as does happiness and self-esteem. Such an engaged citizenry is far more likely to appreciate a more engaged, more critical formal education as well. And, if we are to mature as a nation composed of mature individuals, then we must begin to legislate for ourselves and lose, once and for all, the shackles of paternalism.

These are my Sunday evening ideas.

Thank you for the discussion, TUC ...

Sean (