Feedback: Useful Skepticism
Big concerns about the big test.
Build a better test ("Reinventing the Big Test: The Challenge of Authentic Assessment," April/May 2008)? Why bother? The fraudulent idea that schools should be measured and punished for not achieving No Child Left Behind standards is intellectually silly, politically pandering to the neocon Right, and degrading to the generations of teachers and children who suffer under this misosophy.
Schools must relearn what children are, how they learn, and how they grow a soul -- all the things abandoned for the past thirty years to entertain the madness of the standardized-testing regimes that control federal funding with an iron fist.
The revolutions confronting educators will never again be so trivial as tweaking the bad ideas of the last century. The uniqueness of every child and every child's gift must once again become a national priority. These children may outlive our generation by hundreds of years, their medicine will astonish us, and the integration of ubiquitous technology in everyday reality will reinvent not only learning but also lifestyle.
You can test till you all turn blue, but you are doing little more than killing time.
I suggest that writer Grace Rubenstein apply as much skepticism to the National Center on Education and the Economy's reports as she might have applied to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) when it was first brought out. The NCEE made essentially the same predictions twenty years ago, and its plan for transformation of American schools was dismissed by just about everyone as ridiculous.
Here in my home state of Louisiana, the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) are the standard in K-12 education. The tests cover the big three traditional R's, "cultural literacy" in core subject areas, and, supposedly, critical thinking. They consist of reams of "multiple guess" questions and a handful of written responses. What's interesting is not what they test, but rather what they don't.
When was the last time you went into a job interview and were asked to fill in bubbles using a No. 2 pencil? Have you ever tried to make a sale by writing a short essay on an arbitrary prompt? In a brainstorming session, have you ever been limited to only one of four ideas? For some strange reason, the folks in Iowa City and Princeton (not to mention at the U.S. State Department) don't feel that listening, speaking, and creativity are worthy enough for the new accountability.
In today's changing economy, an ability to listen attentively, think out of the box, and speak "like, you know, good," are more important than ever. Unfortunately, as teachers scramble to prepare their students for the be-all and end-all test, these invaluable but untested skills are being passed over.
Wherefore Simple Values?
I have my first child in kindergarten in Australia this year, and I agree wholeheartedly with "Childhood's End: Growing Up Too Fast" (April/May 2008). There are so many activities the children have to do in one day that the values being learned are speed and "near enough is good enough." I stopped counting the number of worksheets that have come home, and it is only week eleven. Not one is finished! Yet the values of right and wrong, etiquette, sharing, tolerance are left alone! What is going on?
What an honor and surprise to be among the Daring Dozen ("The Daring Dozen 2008," April/May 2008). This recognition has deeply moved me.Thanks for all you do to enable young people (and their teachers) to be creative and express themselves through so many different media!
Assess Uncommon Kids
By creating a project for the students to do as a hands-on activity, one is better able to assess student understanding, and having students participate in peer education solidifies their understanding ("Ask Ellen: Can Common Tests Assess Uncommon Kids?," April/May 2008).
The world of technology is a great teaching tool. I have been amazed by my own children's ability to demonstrate understanding through their presentations and PowerPoints. Through this avenue, it is easier to create a rubric to assess students' comprehension and to promote peer teaching.
My colleague and I developed an assignment for our preservice teachers to learn about fair-use guidelines of copyright ("Copy Wrongs: Teachers Looking Online for Material, Be Warned," April/May 2008). It's in the form of WebQuery, similar to a WebQuest, but a little less prescribed and more student centered. I thought your readers might be interested in the activity.