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testing, community, and schools

updated mon 2 sep 02


Kelly Averill Savino on sat 31 aug 02

Raphael: There is a pretty good argument that education -- and excellence -- can be achieved without testing. We homeschoolers do it all the time -- granted, with a few kids at a time. As a former university instructor I know too well that the realities of a larger group, an institution with specific requirements. But the kind of testing we do to consenting adults who pay for the priviledge and agree to the terms -- is not the same as the standardized testing taking place in the schools.

Imagine having to test your class with a test made up by someone who has no idea what you have taught. Imagine further being hired or fired based on how they score.

The idea that testing can standardize education assumes that tests can measure anything useful... the jury's still out on that one.

Standardized testing assumes that all third graders did chapter three of the same book in November, that there is a standard age for learning about the pilgrims and planting a bean in a cup. It assumes a "one size fits all" curriculum which -- even if schools were equally funded in the inner city and the suburbs, even if teachers were equally qualified and all kids had the same levels and interests and modes of learning -- is doomed to fail, disrespecting students and alienating teachers. squashing the best teachers' visions and innovative approaches. I used to teach high school french, spent a year after college subbing in inner city schools, and my experience is that teachers are not fans of those tests.

I agree with Janet, though, about the ideal role of schools. It's not just the homeschoolers who pay taxes to support school systems we do not use. The elderly, folks without kids, folks whose kids have graduated, are paying for schools that stand empty all summer and every evening and could be providing them with lifelong learning as well. Open schools -- schools have microscopes and gymnasiums and theaters and computers -- would go a long way toward leveling the disparity between families who can afford such things and those who can't. There are kids whose parents have advanced degrees but would be best suited to learning a trade, despite everyone's expectations. I have also had students who were children of un-formally-educated migrant workers who exhausted local libraries trying to find resources to learn on their own time.

The writing of John Holt and other education reformers make a nice argument for seemingly absurd ideas like abolishing grading, making high school voluntary, empowering kids to choose their own modes of learning. It will take a shaking up of the old factory model school, and I feel for teachers and students caught in the middle in the meantime.

Yours, Kelly in Ohio

(at my folks' cottage for labor day... went to the farmer's market this morning with my dad and bought 2 hens and some peaches... he bought 24 quail and we released them at his woods... nice summery bright blue day...)

Wes Rolley on sun 1 sep 02

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At 07:54 PM 8/31/02 -0700, you wrote:
>I agree with Janet, though, about the ideal role of schools. It's not just=
>the homeschoolers who pay taxes to support school systems we do not use.=20
>The elderly, folks without kids, folks whose kids have graduated, are=20
>paying for schools that stand empty all summer and every evening and could=
>be providing them with lifelong learning as well.

Since joining our local communities Parks and Recreation Commission, I have=
learned a lot about this issue. The commission has one of the School Board=
Members as an ex officio participant. A list of things that are done, or=20
not, and their reasoning.

- The athletic fields at most schools are not watered in the summer because=
there is not enough money.

- School pools are not opened for public use because the school district=20
would have to purchase additional insurance which they can not afford. The=
most expensive portion is liability insurance considering the significant=20
number of possible types of "negligence" for which they can be sued.

- Sections of school buildings are off limits to adult school evening=20
classes, for reasons of security and insurance.

The feeling of the school board is that they would rather spend the money=20
that they have on delivery of the direct education that they are mandated=20
to deliver and not to take away from that scant funding for the deliver of=
community services. In this, they are probably right.

Wesley C. Rolley
17211 Quail Court
Morgan Hill, CA 95037

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Being willing is not enough;
We must do. =96Leonardo DaVinci


vince pitelka on sun 1 sep 02

> The idea that testing can standardize education assumes that tests can
measure anything useful... the jury's still out on that one.

Kelly -
Thanks for this post. I have been thinking a lot about the idea of using
testing in studio art classes, and the more I think of it the less I like
the idea. In my advanced studio classes we do have units on ceramic
history, kilns and firing theory, and clay/glaze chemistry, and the students
to get tested on those subjects. But those things are only of accessory
importance to the primary work they do -the development of their artwork.
That is what this is all about, and testing does nothing to gauge that. In
the studio arts we are fortunate in that the portfolio review process is so
effective as an educational assessment processes. Rafael says that it is
subjective, and of course it is, because art is subjective. It is
impossible to quantify the value or effectiveness of art. Testing does
nothing at all to determine whether someone has become a good artist. The
ONLY thing that can determine this is the portfolio - the work that actually
exists or the documentary evidence of work that has been done. It is the
only really tangible proof.

The portfolio is being adapted to many other disciplines in the university,
because they have realized that it is a much more effective means of
assessment than test scores. For example, in a K-12 education program, a
student would retain a series of "artifacts" of the educational process,
adding them to their portfolio. These might be research papers,
photographs, examples of primary sources, journal entries, plus a narrative
that explains the students experience and development in their own words as
they progress through the program. The portfolio is normally reviewed at
midsemester and finals, and in the latter the faculty or adviser is often
present with the student for formal portfolio review.

I think the primary point here is to focus on learning, and to make sure
that the means of assessment does not actually interfere with the primary
goals. In the case of K-12 standardized testing, the currently mandated
testing processes are very much interfering with the magic of learning, and
produce very little useful information. I am afraid that the same would be
true of testing used in any studio class, other than to document the
learning of essential factual information, such as glaze chemistry, ceramic
history, etc.

If you suck the magic out of learning with broad standardization and
obsessive structure, then students learn begrudgingly and resentfully,
because they feel it is being forced upon them. Once out of school they
often retain that attitude for the rest of their lives.
Best wishes -
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Crafts
Tennessee Technological University
1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
Home -
Work -
615/597-6801 ext. 111, fax 615/597-6803