Sunday, February 25, 2007

This Idea Is Already Testing My Patience

What I'm about to discuss here has to be one of the worst ideas ever proposed for higher education: Standardized testing at the college level:
Gov. Rick Perry has proposed to spend $362 million more on higher education, with conditions, including standardized exit-level tests. He wants to tie funding to test scores and graduation rates. He also proposes an initiative to move students through college faster.

The idea of new dollars tweaks college administrators' salivary glands. New tests? Where do we sign? We'll just make students pay for them, $25 a pop.
But needless to say, professors aren't exactly on board with the idea:
Texas Faculty Association president Charles Zucker told the Web site Inside Higher Ed: "We've had massive amounts of teaching to the test in public schools. ... Now there's a consensus that that has failed, the governor wants to institute the same plan for higher education."

His use of "consensus" is open to debate. If education's quest is to roll out drones who, when drilled under threat of retention, will do certain state-assigned tasks, maybe Texas' "accountability" is a success. But we all thought higher education was, well, higher.
Read the entire story (a column by John Young of the Waco Herald-Tribune), which points out that, even though the tests as proposed by Perry wouldn't have to be passed to graduate, that would likely change rather quickly, with the result being the dilution of the college curriculum in much the same way that has already been done in pubic schools.

Here's one more key quote from Young's column:
Standardized testing has become a dead weight on our nation's schools with far less benefit than anyone wants to acknowledge. It is a particular drag on children at or above grade level. Meanwhile, those in the bottom reaches of achievement are subjected to stifling repetition and test prep.

With Texas leading the way, states have shown they can increase test scores, but not necessarily produce thinkers or innovators.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Bob Schaefer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing warned that with state-imposed standardized testing and with economic incentives attached, colleges would "narrow their curriculum to test preparation for the exit exam."

"Test scores may soar, but education quality will be undermined."
It's time to let our representatives in Austin know that the pendulum should be swinging away from standardized testing; it's time to get rid of the TAKS (or at least severely lessen its stakes), not replicate it at the college level.

I believe that such a thing would be the last thing higher education needs. From where I sit, the TAKS test has been a complete disaster. Creativity, higher-level problem-solving, innovative teaching techniques and many more things have been sacrificed to feed this obnoxious beast. As a letter-writer in today's paper put it,
TAKS is moving our educators away from teaching deductive reasoning, logic and problem-solving. Their compensation plan has become uncomfortably tied to TAKS. Texas needs to broaden the formula for school assessment because the compensation scheme on TAKS runs counter to the greater interests of education.

[...]The most compelling reason to discount TAKS' position in school assessment is the overwhelming voice of Texas schoolteachers. They are on the front lines and they see it isn't working.
Also, kudos to the letter-writer, Eric Brandler of Rowlett, for working a Count Basie quote into his letter: "[I]f you play a tune and a person don't tap their feet, don't play the tune." Governor, nobody's tapping their feet to this one (except maybe the companies that make the tests). It's time to change the set list for Texas.

Yet another reason teachers should be paid more: Sometimes they have to deal with truly bad kids, such as the ones in Philadelphia who assaulted a teacher for taking up an iPod from one of them during class. The teacher was knocked to the ground and left with several broken vertebrae.

Well, OK, there are exceptions to every rule: On the other side of the spectrum, a Kentucky middle school teacher made the questionable decision to send a text message to her drug dealer during class. Even worse was the fact that she entered the wrong number into her phone and sent the message to a state trooper instead. (And the fact that she'd done this on school property added even more to her fine.) Key quote: "She learned her lesson. Program your dealers into your phone."--Kentucky State Police spokesman Barry Meadows.

No comments: