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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Teaching To The Test?

The Post has an editorial piece up today, "'Teach to the Test'? What Test?", a follow up to "Let's Teach To the Test", which was written last month.

'What Test?' Espouses the theory of test elimination, and really, after reading it, traditional education elimination. This quote made it clear that Mr. McCarthy, with 28 years of educational experience doesn't (in my mind) understand education's purpose.
I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students' character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured.
You can nurture character development, altruism, and idealism while teaching any subject, but they aren't the primary goal of our schools. The goal of the schools are to make sure the students have a rudimentary understanding of basic subjects so they can get through life.

The other truth of tests is they do prepare you for life, if you live in the real world. Mr. McCarthy asks the question (about testing and preparation):

Is any time left over from mastering theoretical knowledge for gaining the kind of experiential knowledge found in community service or volunteering in programs such as Special Olympics or DC Reads?
Yes, at least that has been my experience. In years of volunteering at my kids schools, from kindergarten through graduation plenty of good students were also good community stewards.

What do students learn by trying to juggle class preparation, community service, extra curricular activities, maybe a job, and a social life? They learn the truth about life, it's a balancing act that is hard to deal with sometimes.

From that balancing act, students can find out how much they can handle at one time. It's where they learn their limits, and can find their desires. When you start removing parts of the balancing act, you are doing a disservice to the student.

At some point in life we all get overloaded, and have to figure out how to deal with it. If it occurs early, in school, we're ahead of the game. One student might decide college prep courses aren't as important to them as performing a community service, another may decide an extra curricular has to go so they can take that prep course.

A teacher is a part of that decision for the student, as are parents, guidance counselors, and friends. When the teachers solution is to remove the test, they've just removed one of the basic learning points in life, choices and consequences of them.

Later in life, when family, work, community and friends are at loggerheads, a decision will have to be made on which to cut back on. What practical experience in that area does the student who had the test removed have? What they will have learned is that someone else will rescue them from the dilemma, but that normally isn't the case.

Jay Cutler, in "Let's teach To the Test" points out that teaching to the test is really no such thing when it's done correctly. It's teaching to the standard that we want the student to achieve. My own practical experience in teaching is that method works well, and students generally don't fret the test.

The last three classes I've taught have averaged well over a 90% on the tests they take when I finish. It's a brand new test, and I've never seen it, only the learning standards that are required for the subject. I could go look it up in the computer, and make sure I'm hitting every question, but it's unnecessary.

In fact, in over 30 hours of instructing this week, I spent 25 minutes "worrying" about the test, that was during a review, in which I use the standards, not the test or sample questions, as the review material.

That's not to say no student is worried about the material when I'm done, they just aren't worried about the test. That, though is the great thing about teaching to a standard, when you let the students know beforehand what the standard is, they know when to ask questions.

Students do come to me after I'm done teaching, but not so they can pass the test, they want to make sure they understand the material. The test becomes not a worry, but instead a measure (as they are meant to be) and the student uses the results to reinforce what they need to know, and to ask about what they didn't know.

If I didn't test them, how would they find out what they don't know? Unfortunately, it would be at some later time, when the consequence might be more than having to take 15 minutes at the end of lunch to get an answer.

Evidently I got Matthew over at People Covered In Fish all worked up this morning, he has quite the rant up on this very subject. Glad to help your blood pressure, shipmate :)

The folks at Goosetales and Penraker aren't impressed with Mr. McCarthy, either.

(3/19) Newsweek also has some interesting stuff on educational competitiveness in this weeks issue.

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Blogger shoprat said...

The writer's description "The writer, a former Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace and teaches nonviolence at three high schools and four universities." says it all.

There is no need to learn to survive because the state will take care of you; just learn to be a good happy citizen in our wonderful utopia. (Groan)

7:05 AM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

I think he's even less credible than you do. To think that altruism is a natural instinct is mind-boggling.

Y'know, up here at the Surface Warfare Officers School, some admiral's kid went through our Division Officer Course a few years ago and told his dad it was a waste of time; apparently, he didn't think taht six months of exercising his liver and learning about the Navy was good use of his time before going to his first ship. I think those of us who are not admiral's sons might have disagreed

Therefore, Dad ordered DOC to restructure. It was changed from a rigorous six-month crash course in everything an ensign needs to do his job into a three week touchy-feely group-hug-fest with no tests that the division officers sit through after they've been thrown to the wolves on their ship for a year or so directly out of college. Because of our lack of ability to hold them accountable for anything, they got very little out of what little time we had.

McCarthy's ablility to be the waste fo skin that he is comes from his formal education. No time for the Special Olympics? What a load of crap! First, why should a child be obligated to perform community service? Second, I agree with you, Crazy P, there's plenty of time for a kid to do things outside of school. I was a Boy Scout for 12 years (and did plenty of community service, because I wanted to), fenced, played soccer, took Tae Kwon Do, worked stage crew and acted in several plays, produced a TV show and wrote a novel. My daughter is in Girl Scouts, plays basketball and soccer, goes to dance is disturbingly active in her church and reads everything. This guy hasn't the foggiest idea what he's talking about.

As far as teaching to the test, it's synonymous with testing the material you teach, in my opinion. Why quiz the student on things he doesn't need to know?

8:06 AM  
Blogger J. said...

Well if you knew about the author, McCarthy, you'd already know that he leans more towards supporting anarchy than government institutions.

And what, all of a sudden trying to act with a little humility and honor in one's life is met with groans? He doesn't teach to a classroom as though the group should listen to his advice and expect if you tell the Iranian Supreme Council you love them that they will come to the table and agree to everything we ask. It's a philosophy that rests on the idea that only you can control your actions, and whatever difference you can make in your own life you should strive for it.

I think we can all agree that community service is beneficial and that as long as there is time for it, helping one's community can be extremely rewarding for all parties involved.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

No, we can't agree on community service being beneficial. It may be beneficial to the community, but almost never to the person performing the service. Maybe you feel good about yourself for a while, but if you need to sacrifice yourself to the community in order to feel good about yourself, you are basing your feelings of self-worth on the scraps of esteem others are willing to give you.

Children need discipline and structure and preparation for adulthood, not to be felt sorry for. They want to be challenged, not pandered to. He claims to have a lot of evidence to back up his philosophy, and I'd be interested in seeing what he considers to be evidence and what exactly it is evidence of. It sounds to me like he's just trying to create a lot of self-sacrificial automatons with no basic skills doomed to a life of dependence upon others. Desire-based learning may be great when students want to learn something, but what about when they don't? I guess someone else will pick up the slack for them. This guy's philosopy may be intended to promote "the idea that only you can control your actions, and whatever difference you can make in your own life you should strive for it," but I'm willing to bet it does the opposite.

He's not demanding anything from these kids. He writes that, "To compensate for my no-testing policy, I assign tons of homework. The assignments? Tell someone you love him or her. Do a favor for someone who won't know you did it. Say a kind word to the workers at the school: the people who clean the toilets, cook the food, drive the buses and heat the buildings. And a warning: If you don't do the homework, you'll fail. You'll fail your better self, you'll fail to make the world better, you'll fail at being a peacemaker."

Adults who do not understand that these people must do what they are doing because they choose to do so, or that violence has a necessary place and purpose, terrible though it may be, turn into people like this McCarthy fellow.

Anecdotally speaking, I get this from my daughter everytime she visits. She is unchallenged in school and hungers for knowledge - so we talk about everything. I visit historic places with her and teach her about the world. I quiz her on multiplication tables. No one else seems willing to do it. She's nine years old and doesn't know anything about the American Revolution or the Civil War. At all. How can you know you want to learn about something if no one ever tells you happened? What if you think it's too hard to understand and decide you don't want to learn about it? She's over-empathetic, can't handle fictional violence or suspense (she has nightmares when Augustus Gloomp is sucked up the pipe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

To blame all this on public education or this backwards, achievement-killing hippie would be preposterous. He's simply part of the larger problem that will take as long or longer to fix as it has to cause it.

9:12 AM  
Blogger jasto said...

You haven't addressed his point that testing is fear-based, promotes cheating, and doesn't teach a thing.

We homeschool. We have to do a standardized test once a year to prove we aren't harming our kids by freeing them from the conformity factory that is institutionalized schooling. Apart from that, we make no assignments, let alone give tests. And yet our kids score in the 90 th percentile and above on the standardized tests.

Why? Because they are passionate about learning. Whatever they want to learn about, we encourage and provide materials on, conversations about, experience in. Children naturally want to learn and testing, among other things in school, kills that natural learning.

Having gone to school - I remember: people crammed for the test and remembered nothing afterwards. Absurd. A big waste of time.

Testing is especially stupid when a grade is attached, because it is not measuring what you have learned, but what you have learned by a certain date and time.

And hello - if your nine year old doesn't know about the revolution - that's your fault.

Humans are a social species. We depend on each other for survival. How a person can be over-empathic, I'll never now. Only a sociopathic, day-care using parent who is not really attached to other humans could feel a child could have too much empathy. That's a really sad statement on you, not the schools nor your sensitive daughter.

10:35 AM  
Blogger J. said...

Way off the subject, but community service is like most things in life that aren't all about doing just what you want to do, it's going to be what you make of it.

If you can't see any benefit for yourself then little benefit is likely to be gained. If there is anything at all, most "community" events have some "social" aspect to them.

It is probably true that the most efficient way to measure the progression of the percentage of questions answered correctly on a test is to have it as structured and standard as possible.

This logic does little to describe what kind of results you could get with another system and does not indicate whether students are storing knowledge for the long term or memorizing individual facts, formulas, and ideas for the short term.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Shoprat You seem to be right on about him. Just move to the commune, man.

J. there's nothing wrong with teaching that honor and humility are good things. I'm just trying to figure out what class he's teaching where that is the entire subject. And again, any subject in school can teach those, from Algebra to Zoology by using the right examples.

I just don't think his method is doing a high school student any good overall for preparing for life in the real world.

Robo Community service has it's place. If you are doing it strictly because you have to, or because someone said it's the right thing to do, you aren't doing much service. If you are doing it because you see a need that isn't being filled, or to help someone who can't do something, then it's different.

Jasto, the only time there should be fear in testing is when you aren't ready. Life is a test, constantly, and graded by others. Either at work when you get a review by your superiors, in society when you are out in public, even in a bar when you are being scoped by the opposite sex.

If your preparation for each of the above is cramming, then you probably didn't learn anything during the lessons for each of lifes tests.

If a student pays attention in class, and to their homework, takes some reasonable notes, asks some decent questions when they don't understand, and reviews the material regularly tests aren't tough. they just become reinforcement that you are learning.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

This fool think tests are fear-based, which is a really smart-sounding thing to say with likely no basis in fact. Believing something and proving something are two different things.

It sounds to me like his apprehension toward measuring his success comes out of pity for the poor unfortunate children he must force an education upon and not wanting to reveal the ultimate failure of his beliefs. Who fears tests? I never feared a test. If I've ever felt I didn't sufficient understand the material

Tests are teaching tools, especially useful to the teacher for measuring whether the students understand the material. If the tests aren't relevant to subject matter, they tell the teacher nothing and the student even less.

My daughter not being on the clue bus? Absolutely my fault, but likely not for the reasons you think. It's difficult to be a parent when you're rarely closer than 1500 miles to your child. But that, like McCarthy's "curriculum" is irrelevant.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Chin Shih Tang said...

I was disappointed in the original column, which misses the point about "teaching to the test" and the extent to which it is actually a positive practice.

The original article seems to imply that it is worthwhile to spend time teaching the specific content of tests.

The real-world fact is that it is important to teach the skills required to do one's best on standardized tests, independent of content. This skill is one that will come in handy at many times through life, will allow students to perform at their best in the formal testing environment, thus allowing their knowledge (or aptitude) to be accurately measured.


11:49 AM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

03 18 06

"It may be beneficial to the community, but almost never to the person performing the service. Maybe you feel good about yourself for a while, but if you need to sacrifice yourself to the community in order to feel good about yourself, you are basing your feelings of self-worth on the scraps of esteem others are willing to give you."

Someone has been reading too much Ayn Rand. I recall reading a couple of articles where they said altruism was evil. I totally disagree with that. Community service is about reciprocity. Contributing to the development and or upkeep of ones community is NOT self sacrifice, nor is it self effacing in any way. It builds character and forges bonds with ones neighbors, those are vitally important skills, esp in a pluralistic society.

I volunteered all throughout high school and it was always a two way street. I got to meet interesting people and had a sense that I was earning my keep in society. That is not detrimental nor is it a negative affect of community service. You talk about caring for family and your children and that is based in a need to love and provide for them-something akin to altruism imho. I am not talking about whatever Randian interpretation there is of the word, I am simply talking about helping out others. It is what family is based upon and how we live in stable societies.

CP: I agree with your assessment and I agree with the majority of the commenters here; that public service is a wonderful thing and that it is not detrimental to the growth of children.

If we want a nation of selfish people who will give up their national security because money can be made on THEIR end, then we teach them that community service is bad because it sacrifices the individual. Otherwise, we teach our children that we are all connected in the society and that our actions all impact one another.

Frankly, I am happy I was raised with the latter school of thought.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

Mahndisa, you and I will continue to disagree on whether altruism is benefical or not. But the meaning of the word can not be in dispute:

1. selflessness: an attitude or way of behaving marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others

2. belief in acting for others' good: the belief that acting for the benefit of others is right and good

In what American's best interest is it to give up national security for monetary gain? In whose best interest is it to not care for their family? When they've chosen to have children it is their moral obligation to look after them until they've learned to think rationally and independently. It's a profound achievement to help a young person develop into a self-sufficient human being. I would hope my parents feel pride in their achievement. Again and again, you confuse individualism and selfishness with greed and taking advantage of people. This is why objectivism makes no sense to you and many other people.

And frankly, that's OK with me.

2:17 PM  
Blogger jasto said...

It was McCarthy's point about fear, not mine. Regardless, learning shouldn't be about being ready on a certain other person's schedule.
Every child learns on their own schedule, and posturing and pontificating doesn't change that. However, testing them, especially when they aren't ready, and labeling them on the basis of that test, does harm them, and often stops learning in its tracks.
Also, people perhaps should not cram for tests, but McCarthy's point and mine here is that the whole school structure with testing causes people to do that. School totally removes from most children the desire to learn something for themselves. They learn only to pass that test, get that grade, then dump it. You see it everywhere - you likely lived it. That's a stupid, counterproductive system. And it's this system that has brought us an america where we test well below other nations in math, science, geography.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

McCarthy doesn't know a hill of beans about basic human nature.

Most humans are going to get away with as much as possible and try to do as little work as possible.

McCarthy's point about tests being about fear...ok, so, fear the test and buckle in and study for pete's sake. Do what it takes to adjust to the real world!

I've seen so many kids that aren't ready for the real world because they've been pampered and babied. The real world isn't all about you! The real world is hard and tough and takes a LOT of work to succeed.

I use objectives. From the tests I give (that are based on the objectives that I want the kids to LEARN about the subject matter) I know how well they understand the material. Tests are my tools, as are grades. They give usable feedback to me, the kids, and parents.

What is hurting our kids is that we are too easy on them. The parents let them get away with so much because it's easier than saying no. It's easier than making sure they study. It's easier than putting their life on hold for a short time and spending time with them.

Thats why the system is messed up. That's why America (parts of it) are below other nations in education. We don't value it, so why should our kids. They see parents given handouts by the government.

The kids need discipline. The kids I have the most trouble with are those that have the worst attitude. They think everyone OWES THEM.

Oh, yeah, and community service. It does the soul good. Oh, and about altruism, if I asked this guy to write me a check for say a couple thousand because I REALLY need it, do you think he would?

5:41 PM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Jasto, you are somewhat correct about learning not being on someone elses schedule. Which is why another of our institutionalized education traditions needs to leave, social promotion. The same folks that think like McCarthy also push kids grade to grade because they wouldn't "feel right" if they weren't with kids their age.

They ignore that they won't feel right when they can't get a job because they can't read.

LP, I agree we are too easy on kids today. Oddly, the generations that produced the most scientists, mathmaticians and doctors were the ones with discipline and accountability. When we got away from them, education suffered too.

6:26 PM  
Blogger crazypoliticoswife said...

I think Mr McCarthy must have taught at Highland Park H.S. Crazy Politico can explain that one. As parents have pushed the schools to teach toward the test its no ones fault but the parents. We control the school boards by who we vote for and we control the money by what referendums we vote for. Be involved in your childs education DON'T RELY ON THE SCHOOLS TO TEACH YOUR CHILD THEIR SOCIAL SKILLS AND OTHER THINGS THAT OUR PARENTS TAUGHT US. Maybe then they can bring back the programs that have been cut from most schools.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Uh-Oh, the wife is yelling :) She's right on though, some of the stuff we've "pawned off" on the schools could be taught at home.

Parent involvement is probably one of the biggest factors missing from education, unfortunately. In a supposedly "crappy" high school our kids did great, but we were on top of them. Both scored over 30 on their ACT tests.

In a supposedly great high school our son was ready to drop out, mostly because lazy teachers didn't want to do the correct assessments to figure out his learning issues.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

I was hoping Lone Pony would jump into the fray. Atta girl! Lousy school + lousy teachers + lousy parents = lousy students. I think any changes to any one part of that formula improve the workings of the entire system. But changing all three would be great.

I don't know about Highland Park H.S, but the students are revolting at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High.

"You said it! They stink on ice!"

6:55 AM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

03 19 06

I have read a bit of Ayn Rand and am not a fan of so called objectivism. I am not confusing selfishness with onjectivism either. There is no such thing as true objectivity. We can try, but it is an abstract state. Frankly the term bothers me. Secondly, Looking at the second definition of altruism is the definition I subscribe to. Perhaps you think that selfishness is good, I don't know. But I look at selfishness as not regarding how the individuals actions impact the whole of society. And Ayn Rand defined it in her own way. Also regarding volunteerism, I don't get your stance. You have shown nothing to indicate why it can be detrimental in any way, aside from your opinions on objectivism. In terms of selling out a nation to make a buck, I believe that is what has happened and is continuing to happen. Levi Strauss was a company that actually took stock of its workers and did their best to employ Americans and give good benefits etc. However, they got beat by companies who outsourced to sweatshops. But the whole thing about outsourcing being the panacea for free trade etc, may just be some invention made by companies who don't want to pay for their employees to have a safe workplace environment. To prove my point, Look up the company called "American Apparel" (I think that is how you spell it). They are a company who only manufactors stuff in the US and they have been posting mad profits. How can this be explained?

I could care less that AynRandians believe altruism is bad; I think they generally preach a doctrine of selfishness, that helping others is bad, that collectivsm is inherently bad-all of these statements I disagree with. Why? They narrowly define these terms and only focus on say Marxism and apply the tenants of Marxism to all collectivism. Ergo we probably won't ever agree on these issues.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Actually Robo and Mahdisa, Rand didn't believe that altruism itself was a bad thing.

What she was saying in her books was that those who believed that altruism could replace self worth and accomplishment were wrong.

Rand didn't believe in the welfare state idea, where the recipients of the "altruistic behavior" became dependent upon it.

In fact, I think her writings actually suggest that altruism is good, when it's directed at those who will use what they get to better themselves, not just to get more.

Directing at those who won't improve themselves seems to be her peeve.

4:06 PM  

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