Wes Nessman, a DJ for my favorite radio station posted the following article on his blog, and his arguments were so compelling I felt it necessary to comment on it. My response follows the link to his article.
First, let me say that I am a huge fan of the station because you play EXACTLY what I want to hear. While I completely agree with your point that problems with the standardized testing system exist and your call to parents to be more involved with their children’s education, some of your arguments and logic are flawed. The purpose of a test is to assess whether or not the student has learned the material they were taught. In order for the test to be a valid and reliable measure of whether or not the student has learned the material, the student must have actually been taught the material. In order the educate the masses – and what I mean by this is if the entire State of Texas population of public school students will be tested with the same assessment for each subject and grade level, then the population of students should be taught the same material – our lawmakers have dictated what should be taught to our students at each grade level and for each subject for exactly this purpose – to educate the masses in a standardized way to make sure students have been taught the information that will appear on the test. While we have been told what to teach and how it will be assessed, we have not been instructed in exactly how to teach what we are supposed to – this is left up to the individual teacher, campus, district, etc. For example, all 6th grade students in the entire state of Texas will be taught the order of operations to a level that will include the use of parentheses and exponents. This concept will be applied by solving expressions, completing measurement problems such as area and volume, developing equations that would require an understanding of order of operations rules to develop them, etc. These concepts would have been taught to students in grades below 6th to a lesser extent and students above 6th grade to a greater extent so the concept of order of operations would not be new, only developed at higher and more rigorous levels. How teachers teach this concept can be very different, which is why some of the “problems with the system” exist – I’ll get to this more in a second. Therefore, there is absolutely no way to “memorize” answers to questions that would assess these concepts because the wealth and variety of question possibilities is so great – we actually do teach the example you used in exactly the way you suggested we teach it – the algorithm and not the fact. This also works the same for reading and writing – students simply cannot memorize the answer to a question about a story they have never read before or have a pre-written essay about a topic they will not be given until time to write the essay. Science is a little different – students are taught concepts, so there appears to be a certain level of memorization, but students must be shown multiple examples of concepts to acquire the knowledge to be able to apply it. Social studies will involve even more fact “memorization” because that’s what social studies does – it covers factual information – but social studies does possess a level of skill application such as map-reading and researching. So for what standardized testing is meant to do, the system works perfectly. The problems are created when other factors are not taken into consideration, such as the students’ motivation and readiness for learning and the teachers’ motivation and readiness for teaching. Consider how we place students in grades by age because this appears to be “standardized.” Children simply do not grow and develop in a standardized way, so why are we relying on age to determine grade placement? A classroom of 6th grade math students all relatively the same age could contain students ready for high school math and students who are still operating at a 3rd grade level along with those who will be successful at exactly what they will be taught. What are teachers told to do about this? Differentiate – so we are told to teach the exact same material to all students in the grade and subject at the same time and we will assess them in the same way, but we must teach it to students functioning at 10 different grade levels, 6 different learning styles, and multiple levels of motivation. People are in fact very different, so we learn differently. This works the same in reverse – not all teachers are motivated at the same level nor prepared to teach in exactly the same way; we are human as well and cannot be automated, so I may expect more from my students than a teacher teaching the same grade and subject as teachers do in another part of the state – but how can this possibly be standardized? By all teachers being given a script of exactly what will be taught and how, no more, no less? By replacing a human teacher with an automated robot? Now that will surely create a society of non-thinkers. Possible solutions for students? Place students in classes according to readiness and motivation. Why are home-schooled students successful? They can work at their readiness and motivation level instead of what the state has told them they must be taught at a specific grade and age. Yes, there are problems with The System, just not the way you think they exist. I have my own solutions for these problems, but the ideas are so radical they would never be accepted, at least until The System completely crumbles!