with Standardized Testing
I have been
haunted by some clearly wrong assumptions about educating children
in some local newspapers; but I decided to write this only after
I read a journalist quote that “standards-based education reform
assumes that every child should possess a basic set of knowledge
and that there is an objective standard for judging whether a
child has acquired that knowledge.”
one of these journalists, C. Barnes, holds the same views as E.D.
Hirsch, Jr. (author of Cultural Literacy—What Every American
Needs to Know) who claimed that students able to learn a mere
5,000 randomly-chosen “facts” would win the ‘key to success’—regardless
of what school, school budget, or teaching methods were utilized
in the process! Teachers under Hirsch’s Core Knowledge
teaching system became drill-sergeants, forcing students in grades
1 through 8 to memorize then test on such facts as famous names,
places, and book titles to be declared ‘culturally literate.’
It didn’t work; and potential life-long learners came to hate
Barnes agreed with two wrong assumptions made by Hirsch about
learning: that there are right answers with only one way
to learn them; and that learning is linear and takes place only
in a set sequence. Both are dead wrong. In fact, information is
usually committed to memory if it is grounded in reality and usefulness;
and it usually happens when students get to discuss, play, imagine,
and/or just plain think.
Since so many
writers seem to endorse standardized tests as being a quick, economical
assessment tool to measure a student’s progress, my question for
Mr. Barnes (and others) is simple: Why would any good teacher
embrace a memorize-then test teaching method when they witness
how it turns kids off of learning? Also, I have seen first hand
that these methods waste valuable, in your face, learning time
and that these tests just don’t measure anything of value.
Finally, I keep
asking myself some tough questions such as: How can a single performance
test given on one day a year compare to student assessments done
by teachers over 40 weeks? Wouldn’t it be like claiming to understand
a person’s whole life by looking at a single snapshot? And, since
drill and test methods promote conformity and regurgitation of
random facts rather than critical thinking, aren’t we in danger
of losing what really counts as we educate our young citizens
once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not
everything that counts can be counted.” He had a point.
K. Trumbull is a professional tutor & public school teacher.
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
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