Cheating Students Out of an Education

Cheating Students Out Of An Education
by James K. Glassman @ Forbes

In fact, the “be-all end-all” of K-12 education is student achievement – which is advanced through “teaching and learning.” Testing may not be perfect, but it is the best objective way to measure progress. Test results give parents, voters, and public officials important metrics for holding teachers and principals accountable for doing their jobs.

This, as the kids say.

As a “private sector educator” (I’m the lead instructor for a local tutoring center), I think I have an interesting perspective on the testing issue. You see, at my workplace, we use tests to meassure achievement all the time — and if the parents of our students don’t see real improvement in scores after the implementation of my program (which is a bit of a hodge-podge based on my several years of personal experience with hundreds of kids), that will affect my pocketbook. Consequently, whenever I hear public school teachers complaining about the testing under NCLB, I respond with a distinct lack of sympathy. If I don’t meet certain testing goals, I lose customers. Why shouldn’t it be any different for public educators?

As I’ve noted in the past, there are problems with NCLB. I think the states cheat in a far more insidious way by setting low bars. In Virginia – which is a pretty high achieving state relative to the national average, sadly – you only need to get 55 – 60% of the questions correct to pass the end-of-course SOL for basic chemistry. 75% – 80% is the proficiency standard I use at work — and for some topics (like the basic math facts), I demand 99% accuracy. But the solution to the states’ gaming of the system is not to throw out all tests; the solution is to make the tests better. Raise the standards, and design tests that require more critical thinking. (And yes, you can do this in the multiple-choice format. Just write questions that require the student to problem solve through multiple steps. And consult some professional psychometricians while you’re at it.)

Also — do we ever hold back students anymore? From where I sit, it doesn’t appear so. I’ve worked with many middle-grade students who haven’t even mastered the times tables, and I find that extraordinarily worrying. We shouldn’t be pushing students on to the next level if they haven’t mastered everything on the current level. If a student of mine hasn’t mastered multiplication, I don’t move on to something else. I keep working on that topic until the student understands it. If a student is not reading on grade level because he or she hasn’t learned to blend basic phonemes, I drill blending in every single session until that student’s performance is almost perfect. Any other approach, I think, leads to failure.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that I believe the tax-paying public has a right to know what’s going on in the schools — and testing is the best way to communicate that information.

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