Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sham Standards: Governor Kasich and the Standardized Testing Fetish Part Two

Someone needs to tell Governor Kasich:
Standardized testing is nuts.
YOU KNOW, you only know what you really know. I think someone needs to tell this to Governor Kasich. 

I don’t know what it’s like to work in the private sector, to work for Lehman Brothers. I don’t know what it’s like to make $600,000 in one year as Mr. Kasich did. 

All I know is teaching and the dedication required to do the job right. And here’s a bit of what I know about standardized testing. In the late 80s Ohio lawmakers came up with the Ninth Grade Proficiency Test and made high school graduation dependent on passing. The social studies section of the test stressed government. So, teachers like increased the time spent on government. 

Unfortunately, geography wasn’t stressed and the “standards” said only that every Ohio student should be able to locate the United States on a world map and Washington, D. C. and Ohio on a map of the country. Until then, I had always given my classes a map test of the fifty states. Now it didn’t matter if 140 out of 150 could locate 40 states or more. It was better if 141 of 150 could locate Ohio, even if they all believed Florida was a foreign country. 

That seemed almost crazy. 

When state tests didn’t seem to make much difference in advancing the quality of education federal lawmakers entered the fray and passed No Child Left Behind.  

Again, teachers adjusted. Now I just had to figure out what one fact should be taught about Islam. In 2005, the only question on the Ohio Achievement Test—the social studies section—was to name the Muslim holy book.

It’s the Koran, if Governor Kasich forgets. 

I found myself suddenly worrying. Did I waste my time when we discussed “jihad” and “polygamy” in class, which seemed pertinent to any discussion of Islam today, but weren’t mentioned in the standardized curriculum? Were my students wasting oxygen and producing nothing but carbon dioxide whenever we focused on current events? On a map, was it wrong to ask students to locate:  IRAN, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, SAUDI ARABIA, MECCA, JERUSALEM, ISRAEL and the RED SEA? Was it good to lead classes in a spirited discussion about women’s rights (or lack thereof) in Saudi Arabia? To discuss oil distorted American foreign policy in Middle East region? 

Since I taught Ancient World History my last few years, I decided to do a unit comparing the demands on and successes of the Roman military with America’s military and the demands we make of our brave soldiers today. I spent Christmas vacation in 2006 writing up the story, focusing on Iraq which then dominated the news. Unlike Kasich, I didn’t get any bonus money for time spent preparing new materials. I was willing to put in the extra hours, though, because I wanted students to be interested in learning.  

That, after all, is what I do know about.

WE ENDED THIS UNIT, more or less (see below), with the story of Christopher Dyer. Here’s how I wrote it up and presented it to my classes:
Christopher Dyer enlisted in the Marines after graduation from Princeton High School (Cincinnati, Ohio).  Before heading to Iraq the 19-year-old tried to reassure his father. “Don’t worry, dad,” he insisted.  “I’m coming home.”  But the boy was wrong and the father was right to worry.  L/Cpl. Dyer was one of fifteen men killed when a huge bomb flipped their twenty-five ton vehicle upside down last August.

A teacher who remembered Dyer recalled that he had studied German for five years and played viola in the concert band.  Another teacher described him as a young man “full of potential.”  His dad explained that Christopher’s sense of duty was “incredible.” 
Speaking to reporters after the funeral, the father exclaimed sadly, “What a wonderful son he was.” 

I say to all our interfering politicians and too all who believe that standardized tests are the salvation of U. S. education that they are wrong. I say that in teaching the story of Christopher Dyer still matters.  

I say that the direction in which we are heading now in American education is insane.

Teaching Note: 

ONE FINAL ACTIVITY to wrap up this unit was to ask six students in every class to take on the roles of three Roman soldiers and three modern U. S. soldiers. Then we held a panel discussion for classmates. 

Thirty-six kids put their knowledge to work—had to do all the talking that day—and learned to be comfortable speaking in front of an audience.

You can’t measure that on a standardized test, either.

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