Saturday, November 26, 2005


I'm sure I won't be the only teacher, parent, former student etc which includes virtually everyone alive, who will be writing about this New York Times article about testing.

Simply stated, it gives examples of states which claimed very high pass rates on standardized Math tests, and then the students were retested by the national government with much worse results.

This seems to be a very common phenomenon. Everyone wants to see better test scores. There's competition from school to school, city to city, county to county, state to state. The same principle all over the world. Educators try innovative techniques to "teach" the modern generation and then make up tests suitable for the students' skills. They write great flowery reports, nicely decorated using computer graphics. In the United States there's extra pressure because of the "No Child Left Behind" law. Solutions were supposed to be found to teach all children, no matter what the problem. I'm sure that it was easier to write the law than to teach the failing kids.

One of the techniques is to raise the child's self-esteem. You do that by making up tests he can pass. Simplifying the curriculum is also done. And of course teaching for the test. Since I teach weak students who want a proper diploma, that's how I gear my lessons.

The results are that the children are exposed to a watered down curriculum and thereby know less than students once did.

In a country the size of the United States, the Federal Government doesn't really know what goes on in the far flung school districts. They collect test result data from the states, and each state tries to control or demand educational priorities and requirements. They are not uniform.

Years ago, decades ago actually, I remember my Aunt Florence (from Conn., not the Aunt Florence from Far Rockaway), who was a university professor, tell us about the different academic level of the students who came from the south. She had to put "honor students" in remedial classes to get them on par for university studies up north.

I also remember when I was in high school (Great Neck North) we always preferred doing Regents Tests, (the standardized NYS high school finals), because they were so much easier than our school finals. In other school districts, students found the Regents challenging.

In Israel we have what's called "Bagrut" tests for most high school subjects. That way there is a national standard, at least in theory. There's one enormous problem. The test grade is averaged with the school grade to help the student pass. Passing is only 55, a ridiculously low number, but that's another story. It is possible for a student to get just a 50 on the test, but if his teacher gives him a 60, he gets his 55. Some schools give very inflated grades to make the school look better. (There are some regulations restricting the differential and penalizing the school if it's too high.) There are cases where the school doctors the teachers' grades to make the school pass-rate higher, and thereby the school's statistics are better.

As a high school teacher, I honestly prefer to keep the two grades separate. That's how we had it in New York in my day. It's more honest.


Anonymous said...

I taught a very successful Dovray Anglit class in one of the "best Middle School" in israel. Parents and kids thrived and were happy. The principal was was not appreciated that the kids enjoyed the class and left smiling...disrupted the "sheket n'stasya" [institutional quiet]. The main complaint was that I gave "too high" grades [these kids were GOOD]and upset the status quo. My 4th year was undermined and I waqs not re-hired; told on last day of school, when parents could not organize a proper response; those who tried were ridiculed and subverted...I was forced to leave Israel, with my Toar Shlishi (which I really underplayed...but many Rosh Katan hated). I once prepared a grammar legal "cheat sheet" that took me 30 years to tweak so as to be accessible for even the students least interested in English. I received a National Commendation [complete with testimonial dinner and an engraved plaque..blah, blah in USA]. This grammar 2-page gift was seen in the garbage cans in the Teacher's lounge at the end of the day. Amazing.

muse said...

As we all know, teachers aren't appreciated. We all have our methods, and we should be flexible to suit our students.