Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Testing the Motives of the Test

The education world is shuddering and rife with turmoil as it hasn't been tested since the early days of disputes for equal education for all kids.  That test came in the now-famous Brown vs. Board of Education. At that time, busing was seen as the answer to providing a quality education to children from disadvantages areas. Mix the kids up in schools in other neighborhoods and that will solve it beautifully. Not such a good answers after all.

Why can't children from all school districts receive a quality education in their own school system and benefit from the fruits of their labors there? Sure, school boards and property owners may not be willing to risk asking for adequate budgets, so kids go to schools that are shabby, deficient in supplies, classes and even properly functioning libraries. Science, physical ed and the arts? Forget about it.

Forget, too, about the technology that is so vital to being a meaningful and fully qualified student/adult/worker in today's competitive world. These kids are doomed from the first day they set foot into those schools. No one, who is truly being honest about the situation, will dispute that and they really can't dance around it. We all know that, too.  Poor families can't afford shoes much less computers or pay for wi-fi access. Local libraries may not even be funded sufficiently to provide technology for all the kids who come seeking it.

Parents are finally realizing and using their power and it involves taking to the streets and pulling their kids out of the questionable tests now being mandated. The signs held by the parents (primarily mothers) ask simply, "What's the motive for the test?" Fair question.

Not only is that question fair, but what is the plan that will be implemented when results, such as they may be, are gleaned from a run through the computers at the boards of ed? Many questions to be answered, but who's responding to that benign question? I haven't seen anyone who has stepped up to the podium and offered any, much less a cogent, response to the question.

Okay, boys and girls, who's up for some tough questioning at a town meeting? No one? Weren't you elected to these posts or were you appointed as a political or business favor? Do you have any specific skills that would make you a viable spokesperson? Or background and experience (no, please, not Michelle Rhee) that would enable you to tackle this tough nut?

One parent, who agreed to what was a brief sound bite, asked, "Why should the kids be missing 12 weeks of education just to prepare for a canned test?" I have to agree. Shouldn't the kids be learning instead of learning to take the test?

And what are the tests really testing? Test taking, as anyone who has ever studied it knows, can be learned and those who have had to take tests for licensure sign up for expensive study course to take those tests.  It doesn't really mean they know the material; they know the test and how to succeed at it.

Education is not learning facts. Do you know why the War of 1812 was fought or what The Three-Fifth Compromise was all about?  Can you discuss the implications of each and then apply this to present-day American foreign policy? If you can, that would seem to indicate you've learned how to utilize information in a meaningful way. How about discussing the Pythagorean Theorem and its utility in everyday life? Well, maybe not so much the latter, but certainly you should have learned how to use information to reason and apply that information.

What do you know about computer coding? Are you even conversant with the most basic of computer languages and can you use any form of geek-speak? I'm not asking much. I'm asking you, an adult living in a world that is zooming daily with technological advances, to be comfortable in that world. Imagine if you were a kid who couldn't even read at the second grade level and you're about to graduate from high school--if you even made it that far. Did you miss out?

Yes, of course, you'd have to be able to read to take those dastardly tests, but could you understand what the question posed was fishing for? Reading is one thing. Reasoning is another matter entirely. Are we teaching kids to reason or take tests? If you use computerized, forced-choice tests, as I know all these tests are, you cannot possibly appreciate how accurately assessing the kids must be done. Novelty, in a response, is thrown out the door because it doesn't fit the algorithm and that's a major failure and, probably, unappreciated flaw. Intelligence tests suffered from just such a flaw until changes were made.

Parents deciding not to send their children to the testing are engaged in a national dialog found in the Opting Out movement.  There's a lot wrong with standardized testing. The wish to have our children receive quality education and to enter their careers and contribute to this country is unquestionable. No one wants their child to end up homeless, in a shelter, using drugs or have an incarceration history follow them for the rest of their lives.

Every child is a precious commodity, not just to their parents, but to everyone. We should want only the best for them, but the standardized testing road being taken won't lead to the goal we seek for them. More than re-evaluation is needed here.  Then, too, how do we effectively evaluate teachers?

How will you contribute to this opportunity for improvement in our educational system?