Diane Ravitch’s recent New Republic article, written in response to Penn Provost Ezekial Emanuel’s assertion that testing is good and more testing is better, probably stunned her critics because in the article she agrees that more testing is needed: more testing by teachers instead of the standardized tests Dr. Emanuel and his fellow “reformers” advocate.
Ravitch’s opponents have done a good job of persuading the mass media that she is anti-testing, but she points out that her issue is not with having teachers test children regularly and systematically. She is a firm advocate of regular testing using tests written by the teacher because those tests provide both parties with fast feedback on how well a lesson was taught and learned. She is opposed to using standardized assessments written by contractors as the primary means of measuring student, teacher, and school performance. She wants the responsibility for testing to rest with the teacher… because the teachers will then “…(know) by the end of the day or over the weekend which students were keeping up and which ones were falling behind. (They) could act on that knowledge immediately to make sure that students understood what (the teacher) thought he had taught and to explain it again to those who did not.”
This is the RIGHT way to test… with standardized tests used in a limited fashion to measure the learning of large groups of students and school-based administrators and/or department heads periodically reviewing the tests teachers use to see if they are helping them gain insights into student learning.
Yesterday I posted an article about the standardized preschool tests that elite private schools use for entry and public schools use to identify so-called gifted and talented students. Today’s installment reacts the appalling practice of a school district in FLA, where children begin learning how to take tests as part of their Kindergarten experience.
A reader of Diane Ravitch sent a message describing her daughters first experience at test taking in Palm Beach FLA that included this passage:
Each student was separated by a cardboard wall of blinders around them and they were given a five page test on numbers one through five. They had to write the number, the word for the number and draw how many dots represented the number. At a local union meeting, I asked a Kindergarten teacher from another school if she…surround(ed) each student by blinders. She nodded in affirmation, (saying she was) told “They have to be prepared to be tested in first grade.”:
This is the meta-message we are sending our children from the time they are born: they need to be prepared to pass a test and they need to work independently to achieve anything.
We like to think we are a country where we don’t sort kids based on test scores. We would be appalled at the notion of adopting some kind of system where one test given at age 12 or 17 determines your lot in life. Instead of designing schools to inculcate a love of learning we are designing utilitarian schooling that prepare students for an endless battery of tests that will follow them through life.
We like to think we are a country that requires teamwork and interdependence yet our schools are increasingly competitive and learning is done in isolation.
If public schools continue down this path of joylessness and uniformity more and more parents who seek creativity and free-spritiedness in education will abandon our schools. Watch… it’s happening already.
An article in today’s NYTimes describes the slipshod corner-cutting that resulted when the US Government decided to privatize background checks in the 1990s, the era when the notion of privatization took root. The toxic combination of standardization and underfunding led to “ghostwritten” background checks by employees of the USIS, the private firm that assumed responsibility for the background checks of civil servants and military personnel. Here’s a brief and sad history of the USIS:
Once an arm of the federal government, USIS was spun off into the private sector in the 1990s as U.S. Investigations Services. Former employees said it became aggressively focused on meeting revenue goals after it was bought in 2007 by Providence Equity Partners for $1.5 billion.
“It all became extremely numbers-intensive,” said a former executive with top-level management responsibility. “There would be a crisis situation when you were off by 2 percent” from a revenue quota.
A spokesman for Providence declined to comment.
Between 2005 and 2011, Congress held 14 hearings to bring attention to the problem of the security clearance backlog. A White House official in the Bush administration, Clay Johnson, was named chairman of a task force to tame the backlog. “We paid a lot of attention to it,” he said. “There was no excuse.”
Part of the solution was as simple as switching to online questionnaires. Another was enabling the personnel office to rapidly hire more field investigators, which it did by outsourcing 75 percent of the work to the private sector.
The time to close a file shrank from an average of 145 days in 2005 to 36 this year, according to the Federal Investigative Service, a bureaucratic triumph celebrated by Republicans and Democrats.
Hm-m-m-m… the time taken to close a file– the metric used to determine compensation– was shortened and everyone was happy…. but the QUALITY of the reviews and the files was diminished. Of course both political parties were happy: they didn’t have to raise the money needed to staff an office that did the kind of time consuming comprehensive background checks that typified those done previously by government agencies…. and now that it has come to light that the shooter in the US Naval yard murders had a slipshod background check they can shift the blame to the private agency who, while underfunded by the government managed to make a tidy profit for shareholders.
I’ve linked to this article because this sounds like the privatization movement in public schools. The privatization and quantification of complicated tasks is the result of the magical thinking that everything can be standardized. When background checks for secrecy clearings are counted like widgets it is no surprise that employees become heedless. When the quantification of schooling is reduced to a single test given at the end of the year, is it any surprise that teachers and administrators cut corners to get test scores higher?
Government leaders should be explaining to the public that some complicated endeavors require time and the only way to reduce the time needed is to add personnel which, alas for politicians, requires the raising of revenue. In background checks this means more people to complete thorough and comprehensive background checks. In schools it means more teachers to work with students individually to ensure their unique needs are being met.
An op ed article in today’s NYTimes titled “Losing is Good For You” discusses the purported consequences of giving everyone a trophy. In the article, author Ashley Merriman specifically singles out AYSO for scorn, which led me, as a former AYSO coach, to submit the following comment:
AYSO is not about sorting winners and losers. I was an AYSO coach in the late 1980s and support their “everyone plays the same number of minutes” ethos that was in place at that time. The purpose of AYSO soccer was to bring children together to teach them soccer fundamentals and teamwork… not to sort them into “stars” and “bench warmers”. If a child loved and excelled at soccer they could progress to “Lightening Soccer” where they would get better coaching (I only played intramural soccer) and a higher level of competition. AYSO is based on the premise that pre-teens are at widely divergent phases of physical growth. If we give MVP trophies to 8 year olds we are often rewarding the most physically mature child and when we give “most improved” we reward the child who just experienced a growth spurt over the past year. When everyone gets a trophy or ribbon in developmental activities like AYSO soccer, it emphasizes the importance of teamwork, a lesson a child cannot learn shooting the soccer ball in their back yard.
Merriman also makes the following assertion:
It’s accepted that, before punishing children, we must consider their individual levels of cognitive and emotional development. Then we monitor them, changing our approach if there’s a negative outcome.
This may be “accepted” in psychology texts but we clearly don’t practice it in schools where students are effectively punished when they fail to have the “individual level of cognitive development” that matches their age peers. Instead of “changing our approach” or questioning our traditional age-based grade-level system we identify them as failures. As one who taught in an urban middle school and worked in two high schools where children struggled to succeed academically I’ve witnessed the downside to academic competition: by the time a struggling student reaches eighth grade they’ve been told for seven consecutive years that they are failures and, having heard that message repeatedly they drop out of school as soon as they can.
The bottom line: Competition is destructive to children when their “individual levels of cognitive and emotional development” are not taken into account. Losing is only good for you if you have the resilience needed to deal with it.
A Facebook friend posted an article from The Atlantic bemoaning the fact that his 8th grade daughter has a massive amount of homework. While another post is needed to address that concern, I was troubled by the fact that the writer, Karl Greenfield, overlooked the fact that teachers are working every bit as hard as the students…. which led me to make this comment:
Here’s what Karl Greenfield fails to acknowledge: the teachers work as hard as the students! They put in a full day of work and then go home or spend time on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons for the next day. Oh… and some of them coach, or attend school events, or (gasp) work a second job to help pay their bills.