Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Blogging at The Washington Post, civics teacher Valerie Strauss
delivers the following damning indictment of the widespread misuse of
standardized testing throughout our government-run educational system:
First (and I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here), in the AP U.S. Government exam the constructed responses are called "free response questions" and are graded by a rubric that is concerned primarily with content and, to a lesser degree, argument. If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words. Thus, a teacher might prepare the student to answer those questions in a format that is not good writing by any standard. If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing-- no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support. Some critical thinking may be involved, at least, but the approach works against development of the kinds of writing that would be expected in a true college-level course in government and politics. [links added for context]I disagree with some aspects of her analysis. For one thing, "teaching to the test" would not be as big a deal if so many other things weren't already wrong. Nevertheless, Strauss provides a valuable, up-to-date snapshot of the state of education in America a decade after doomed Bush-era "reform" attempts. It is interesting to note that the system cheats students twice: first, by entrenching poor pedagogical methods, and second, by frustrating better teachers to the point that many quit.