Archive for the ‘Tests, CSAPS, NCLB’ Category

Set Standards not Class Schedules

October 24, 2007

Colorado Republican legislators are proposing legislation that mandates a specific number of math, science and English classes that all students must take in order to graduate from high school.  They also are proposing that all students must take an exit exam before they receive a diploma.

The idea of an exit exam has merit and deserves consideration.  The idea to mandate a specific number of classes does not make sense.  In fact, it’s a move backward and will impede school district’s efforts to bring education into the 21st Century.  Here’s why.

We should be moving toward making learning the constant and time the variable, not the other way ‘round.  We should be trying to figure out ways for students to take the time they need to master material and then move on.  If some students can master material is half a semester, great.  If other students need one and a half semesters, fine.  Why should we hold students back who are ready to move?  Why should we force students to move on who aren’t ready?  We shouldn’t.

Designing instruction to move at the student’s pace rather the school’s pace is no easy task.  We must make systemic, logistic and cultural changes to succeed.  Making such changes requires concerted effort.

The Republican’s plan to mandate a specific number of courses only impedes this process.  It locks us into the very model for education from which we should be seeking to break free.

So, please Republicans, keep your focus on standards and resist the urge to set class schedules.

Do standardized tests lead to a more vibrant society?

August 18, 2007

Here is one of my questions, which some people might consider heretical to even ask.  Is there any correlation between high scores on standardized tests and thriving societies?

Here’s the reason I ask.  In 1983, the Department of Education issued a report titled A Nation at Risk.  The report began with these two sentences: 

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.

It’s 24 years later.  First graders in 1983 are now 30 years old and many have first graders of their own.  Our progress on standardized test scores has been nominal at best.  You would think that America would have had to close up shop if we’ve gone so long with so little progress on standardized tests.

Yet, our standard of living, by almost any conceivable measure, is better than it was in 1983.  Our economy has run circles around Europe and Japan.  Unemployment in some European countries has been double the U.S.’s for at leat a decade.  Japan’s economy has been in the doldrums beginning in the early 1990s and through the first part of this decade.

The United States is recognized as the world leader in creativity and innovation – the engines that drive the new economy.

Asian students continue to beat the pants off American students on standardized tests.  Yet, Asian leaders are trying to figure out how to instill a sense of creativity into students.  They know that’s where the future of commerce lies.  Consider this, from Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind.

Japan, which rose from the ashes of World War II thanks to its intense emphasis on L-Directed (analytic) Thinking, is now reconsidering the source of its national strength.  Although Japanese students lead the world in math and science scores, many in Japan suspect that the nation’s unrelenting focus on schoolbook academics might be an outdated approach.  So the country is remaking it vaunted education system to foster greater creativity, artistry, and play.

I believe in high expectations and high standards for students.  I believe that many of our students need to be more fully engaged, inspired and challenged.  I believe that many of our schools are falling short of their potential.  I think it is more than reasonable to expect accountability from teachers and schools.  And, I’ve had personal experience with a school that has been less than accountable.

I heed the warnings of businessmen and scholars with far more international experience than my own when they say we need to pay attention to what is happening in Asia and India.

My question is simply this:  How do standardized tests, as they are used now, serve our purposes?  Will all this standardized testing help shape the society for which we aspire?

What do you think?