I’ve enjoyed ED Kain’s posts on education over at Forbes, but I’ve been reluctant to heh-indeed his anti-standardized test jihad, even tough I am fellow traveler philosophically, because I just don’t know enough about the issues
Sometimes, though, I think that we have become a nation of grifters and that standardized tests are part of the reason why. When I say “grifter” here, I’m not referring to all the welfare queens buying big-screen teevees with their big gubmint fiat money, I’m referring to elites — banskters, the punditocracy, the captains of what passes for industry these days. I remember talking to a friend of mine — who is more or less a bankster himself — about the idea of W as the “CEO president”. My friend said “he is, he’s exactly like contemporary CEOs — they know nothing about their companies but they’re good at convincing people to keep their stock price high.” It’s the same when you read The Page or Politico or Swampland — it’s all who’s up, who’s down, and none of the highly paid pundit “experts” know fuck all about any of the issues.
I’ve seen posters around for Kaplan test prep where it lists a bunch of answers and says “if you think you have to know the question to know the answer, you need to visit Kaplan”. Kids spend their formative years being judged on the basis of tests that are more about knowing the ways of the test than about knowing the subject. Learning the material is a sucker’s bet, the smart move is to be as cynical as possible about the whole process. It’s no wonder that many of the most ambitious grow up to be members of the cult of savviness.
And, yes, it’s like rain on
a summer your wedding day that much of the most shallow Beltway conventional wisdom comes from outlets that are subsidized by the standardized test prep industry.
Actually, you said “grafter” in the title.
That pretty much sums up law school and the bar exam, right there, too.
Competence in our society has become a liability. The ability to bullshit has become an asset (granted, it always has been) that far exceeds it’s actual worth. I’ve seen it in the practice of law. The case law and statute is very clear, you can do this, you can’t do that – the other side has no argument other than “nah uh” and the judge buys it because, well, in most cases, I still haven’t figured it out.
We are, as a society, sitting on a bullshit bubble, and no one wants to acknowledge it… because like the dotcom bubble and housing bubble, if you acknowledge it, it’ll pop.
Doug Harlan J
It’s from a song, of course.
Agreed, and I love the Jay Rosen link. His criticism really nails WHY the things about our public discourse that make me crazy, make me crazy.
Anyway, same as it ever was. You probably don’t remember the “New math”, but that was another Bright Idea by an “educator” selling hot air. I’m sure there are more examples outside of my immediate experience. I’ll try to come up with a few. The difference, I think, with NCLB is that somebody got the preznit behind their Bright Idea. Probably rode it to the bank, too.
@Doug Harlan J:
Well of course. Which explains why it goes completely over my head.
You got anything from Sinatra? And by that, of course I mean Nancy?
Just Some Fuckhead
Sheesh, that was a heroic effort to tie three disparate concepts together but I think I agree.
Wedding day! Man, you don’t know your Alanis from your elbow.
Yeah. When I got out of college ten years ago, and realized that this– navigating tests and writing papers– was my only real “skill”, I pretty much had a nervous breakdown (going through Teach For America didn’t help with my mental state, either).
We’ve been using our schools to create kids who are good at going to school, and not too much else, for at least the last twenty years.
This is what happens when the salesmen take over the factory.
Speaking of which, am I the only one feeling that the next person I encounter who uses the term “Cloud” in a conversation about IT without knowing the first thing about how servers and networks in general, and the internet in particular, actually work, that person needs to be hauled to the top of Mt. Everest and thrown down the Kangshung Face without a rope.
Man, I want to go read a bunch of those Forbes blogs, I’m sure they’re great, but christ are they ugly. Totally unreadable.
Chad N Freude
Tests? We don’t have to take any stinkin’ tests.
This is pretty important. Go read it.
Forget peak wingnut, will we ever reach peak bullshit?
Doug Harlan J
Thanks, I corrected it.
I grew up in a backwater in Canada. Our provincial educational standards were pathetic but thankfully some high schools had turned part of their curriculum over to AP and IB. Standardized tests – and teaching directly to them or doing independent study targeted at them – brought my education up to the point where I could actually attend a rigorous college.
Those kinds of standardized tests I support – the ones that our provincial department of education made us take were total jokes and a waste of time.
Edit: oh, and about 0% of Canadian students, now or at any time, know a damned thing about what’s in the Canadian constitution.
As a non-IT professional, I’ve been a little confused by the term “cloud computing”, because it doesn’t seem to describe anything different from client-server computing that incorporates internet connectivity. Maybe it is different, but it looks like a buzzword to me.
Doug Harlan J
AP tests are not all multiple choice as far as I know. I also don’t think they’re the kind you can “psych out” as easily as the SATs etc. I am a big fan of the AP program in general, I think it helps schools a lot.
@Chad N Freude: I am loving the comments on that article. The most recommended one is “Decline in students’ knowledge of civics = rise of Tea Party.”
If it weren’t such a cynical answer, I might opine that this is how all civilizations arc and die: from grand dream to imperfect implementation to insiderism to death. But that’s probably just a huge over-simplification and really I hope, for my children’s sake, that I am just a cranky old bastard.
@Doug Harlan J: I didn’t get from your post that you were talking about multiple-choice testing only. I’ve never been a fan of multiple-choice, though I am a fan of setting high standards, which can sometimes be done with multiple-choice exams.
DougJ, you might be interested in this video. Its quite well done, and worthy of discussion.
Wow, a 16 word post, one link, no trigger words, and I’m in moderation. FYWP!
The entire repub argument for not taxing the rich is that they are treasonous scum who will cheat on all their taxes and loot the country and its systems for wealth creation, so we should not tax them to prevent this.
Doug Harlan J
To me, standardized means multiple choice. I know that may not be common usage and maybe I should be more explicit.
Oh, it’s gone well beyond the buzzword stage. We’re in bubble territory now. There’s an entire industry of folks out there who as we speak are as busy as beavers repackaging all that “New Economy” BS from the late 90s DotCom bubble and selling it to the credulous in a shiny new box. It’s a whole new paradigm! The Old Rules no longer apply! Get on the train now before it leaves the station without you!, etc., etc…
Hang on to yr wallet.
@Mark: I’m with you. One thing we didn’t learn in school, apparently, is to define our terms. I’ve wondered whether standardized tests can be essay tests myself. According to Wikipedia (I know):
But what DougJ is apparently referring to here are multiple-choice tests, which is what we commonly use in a lot of US standardized testing. And I’m with him when I say that multiple-choice testing appears to not have delivered desired educational results.
As i happens, I just finished watching the end of The Wire last night. In the last episode, briefly-Commissioner Daniels, speaking of pressure to goose the crime-reduction figures, says, “The numbers are killing this department”. It’s resonant, because the show has also been significantly about the educational system, and the news business, and I think the creators are clearly trying to say that orienting all those disciplines around things that can be shown numerically has corrupted them all.
I also think there have been dire repercussions to this educational regime whereby it’s terribly important to know _exactly_ what’s being asked, structurally, systemically, and without enough cues and “prompts” there’s just no way to Engage Brain.
Just Some Fuckhead
I think it does represent a big change in the IT world that will have eventual ramifications on employment in the IT world. The last company I took over had a room full of servers – for the phone system, the network and storage, the ultra-complicated tech dispatching system, another server to manage vpns and one dude working full time to manage it all.
I put every bit of it in the cloud and fired the IT guy. Everything runs better, someone else is in charge of backups, redundancy, etc., all our stuff is automatically available on the web from anywhere – including phone service – and it’s all costing me less.
Yes, there are potential security issues but these exist anyway.
I’m thinking about the whole IT certification thing. Sure, it was supposed to give you an idea of the competence of an applicant for an IT job. It’s just that there’s so much money in tests, test preps, etc. that eventually anyone with a pulse can be an MCSE. Doesn’t mean they can administer shit.
Because the end result for the learners is that they are trained to pass that test. They are not trained to be system administrators.
This somehow seems related.
Aren’t you a math faculty member? Because we know that standardized testing, combined with some other factors, has done a number on proof education in this country.
I don’t know what exactly is so confusing about cloud computing. It’s an extension on what’s come before, but allows for a lot of neat options.
I like this description-
If frees one up without having to worry about acquiring, maintaining, and repurposing hardware resources. More time spent on making the best projects/service, more experimentation, less arbitrary setbacks.
@Just Some Fuckhead:
Exactly, it’s the uber-colo. Sure, the media talks about it without understanding exactly what they’re saying, but that’s the state of science/tech reporting. I expect no less.
A brief word in favor of some standardized tests, like the SAT.
People who can’t pass them at all generally do really badly in college. You can run a statistical coorelation on that. These tests provide an early warning to people who otherwise might waste a lot of money on schooling they don’t need.
People who do mindbogglingly well on them generally do really well (i.e. actually produce worthwhile stuff for our society) in PhD programs. Making it easy for people who have that kind of potential to actually get into college, regardless of the high school they went to, or background they came from, via scholarships, etc, is useful to society.
Everyone else in the middle who passes has the potential to graduate from a 4 year college in a reasonable amount of time. Whether a 4 year college degree is actually useful to them is a completely separate problem. A good part of graduating from college is the ability to make yourself read and follow written directions accurately, to plan ahead, and to take responsibility for being in the right place at the right time. [I.e. do your own work, figure out for yourself what you need to do, know what you want to do with your life, and show up for class.]
@Just Some Fuckhead:
I don’t want to threadjack this into a discussion of the IT merits/demerits, so I’ll just say that I’m more irked by the “business consultant” types who are pushing the meme that Teh Cloud will totally revolutionize the non-IT side of the business (and oh BTW here’s some stocks I’d like to pimp). Usually the same guys who like to show up on-site 30 mins before they are due to give a PowerPoint presentation and are totally nonplussed to discover that they don’t automatically have high-speed access to the net through our network without any credentials (why? Because this ain’t Starbucks, dumbass). And right now these folks are multiplying and spreading out over the landscape like a Biblical plague. If you haven’t encountered them yet, you’re lucky.
One of the many things that bothers me about standardized testing is this “one solution fits all” aspect to it. One of the people with whom I commute is a second grade teacher (California schools), and from some of the things she talks about (and the joyful reactions of her students when she gets off the shuttle and is greeted by them) I get the idea that she is a great teacher. She hates standardized testing, at least for young students, and I tend to agree with her.
She doesn’t see that the tests accomplish anything other than severely stressing out the students, who spend two weeks preparing for them, and another week or so taking the tests.
And the biggest problem is conceptual. Instead of asking, “what do kids need to learn and how can we best teach it,” the process has become twisted into “what can be turned into testable material?” Education itself becomes secondary.
I got no hard opinion on the value of standardized tests later on, or how the tests should be designed, but for younger kids testing seems to be another terrible example of a solution in search of a problem.
@Poopyman: The financial stakes are much higher than for the New Math period. The people who did “New Math” were educators. Did they set out to raise $2.0 billion for their own New Math foundation, damn the results, like Michelle Rhee is doing?
Doug Harlan J
Yes, but there may be other issues here that I am not familiar with.
Just Some Fuckhead
haha. I have met the enemy and he is me.
I think I am legally obligated to pimp out Windows Azure Traffic Management right now. Grab a vm from any datacenter in the world, and create a policy to optimize DNS resolutions at an enterprise scale!
The boys worked hard on it.
I’ve worked in major corporations. Most CEO’s (and CEO wannabes) are idiots. I haven’t blamed standardized tests for it, but that seems as good an explanation as any.
@Doug Harlan J:
Yes, there are others. I have a foot in K-12 outreach. Another thing killing us was this recommendation to “de-emphasize 2-column proof” in the 2000ish NCTSM guidelines. It was read as “de-emphasize proof”, and it takes 10 years to undo damage like that.
@Doug Harlan J:
I have mixed feelings about APs. I know a lot of schools in poorer areas that offer a Calculus AB course because they “have to”. But to fill the courses, they stick in a lot of students that aren’t ready. I get the impression that this has eroded a lot of the credibility of the AB version of the AP exam over the years.
That is exactly right. The people involved in New Math were largely college-level educators, rather than people coming from the outside. One of the fallouts of New Math was that it (still!) makes it very difficult for college educators to make recommendations at the K-12 level.
One of the good outcomes of that debacle, however, is that it really forced math educators to study the psychology how people learn. Gimmicky ideas won’t cut it anymore. I am in a CS department now, and SIGCSE (the primary conference for education reform in computer science) is littered with gimmicks that reek of the New Math mistakes.
Standardized tests have some merit. They require a student to use logic and process of elimination. For the SAT, a student taking the reading sections needs to read closely and examine text that is out of context. The essay requires students to formulate clear arguments, with specific examples. These are useful skills. The problem is that standardized tests can not be the only method of measuring knowledge, but they are increasingly relied on because politicians love to be able to show off hard numbers
and how does a personal knowledge of the Constitution help most people in their life ?
We have experts to do that. just like we have experts do most everything else around us. There are no generalist.
A whole bunch of people want to ban something. They do some petitioning and voting. Then An Expert tells them it’s against the constitution, a judge either agrees or disagrees.
That our experts are not really experts is the problem, not that the generalists should be smarter.
We also seem to have an affinity for picking grifters instead of experts for important jobs.
Besides, without the requisite critical thinking skills, you’ll have the same “constitutional experts” as the idiot teabaggers.
Lately, I’ve got those idiots responding on friends’ facebook pages “isn’t it great to live in a country with the first amendment!” when I post my disgust over their detached bloodlust towards OBL.
You’ve nailed it ! “if you think you have to know the question to know the answer, you need to visit Kaplan” is the greatest catch ever. Of course it should go on “if you know you don’t need to know the question to know the answer, you might be qualified to write for the opinion pages for our Newspaper subsidiary.”
For every X, the correct answer is “opinions on X differ. Both sides have a point.” If one gets distracted by X and related facts, one can’t write a properly ballanced column.
Seriously, I think that the fact that Kaplan keeps the Post afloat and the Post makes it impossible to eliminate the Kaplan U boondoggle is just a coincidence. But I really don’t think it is a coincidence that the elite has ceased to be reality based when Kaplan figured out how to game the test which is used to decide who to admit to the universities which select the elite.
I’ve never tried to choose the answer without knowing the question. I have the following guesses as to how to do it. First, there are two similar answers and one is correct. The idea is n clearly wrong answers so that medium apt test takers can tell they are wrong, then two from which only highly apt test takers can chose.
Of the two the correct one is likely to sound vaguely like one of the other answers but to have a completely different meaning. The idea is to catch people who try to memorize answers or choose the answer that contains a word which they remember in the context of the most nearly relevant high school class.
Huge swaths of the web are so poorly designed that they’re practically unreadable. Most people don’t seem to care. If you do, try readability.com. I put a bookmark on my firefox bookmark bar, so turning the typical garish, ugly web page into something you can read easily is one click. For anything longer than about two paragraphs, it’s worth it.
(If you’re a safari user, readability is built in.)
I guess it’s just me, but I can’t even figure out wtf that’s supposed to mean.
oh, and about 0% of Canadian students, now or at any time, know a damned thing about what’s in the Canadian constitution.
Has to be statistically greater than 0, sorry, because my high school (and, as far as I know, all the ones in the local board) taught it and other similar things as part of the required Grade IX history course. (We even got to study the Communist Manifesto, how many US HS students can say that?)
I’m astonished, you financialize the empire and the grifters take over the place. Hoocadanode
fwiw, one of the things i do is evaluate kids’ cognitive and academic skills, and i can tell you, the downward spiral in actual education accelerated as soon as the testing standards were put into law.
teachers no longer have the time or latitude to teach kids how to learn, they have to teach to the test. so we’re producing these automatons who can regurgitate disconnected factoids at best, but don’t have any clue how those factoids hang together. and so few can read adequately, even fewer can write, and there you have it, the plummet to the bottom for our next generation.
it’s increasingly hard not to think about how fervently slave-owners fought to keep their slaves ignorant when you look at the history of republican resistance to public education, especially over the past thirty years. the irony, of course, is that nowhere is that accumulated ignorance more evident than in the republican party. their ’12 candidate bench is as thin as it is voluminous.
I can’t speak for ED, but I can for myself, and mostly for my wife, a public school educator for nearly 20 years.
We’re not anti-testing. It’s been around for decades and serves important purposes.
We’re against the gravity now attached to ‘the test’ and all the machinations surrounding preparing to give and take the test.
In Philadelphia they test every six weeks for ‘benchmarks.’ It ain’t just to help compose press releases about how well or poor the kids will do on ‘the test’ this year. We’ve reduced our children to cells on spreadsheets.
(Six week benchmark test statement from an article which intimates administrative-level cheating on standardized tests:
City school’s fast-rising test scores questioned
Like the fact that technically it’s not a constitution. And it’s not that old either.
I was thinking more of an earlier scene from the series, tying police and education together –
Roland ‘Prezbo’ Pryzbylewski: I don’t get it. All this so we score higher on the state tests? If we’re teaching the kids the test questions, what is it assessing in them?
Grace Sampson: Nothing. It assesses us. The test scores go up, they can say the schools are improving. The scores stay down, they can’t.
Roland ‘Prezbo’ Pryzbylewski: Juking the stats.
Grace Sampson: Excuse me?
Roland ‘Prezbo’ Pryzbylewski: Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I’ve been here before.
Grace Sampson: Wherever you go, there you are.
@Chad N Freude: The main problem I have with that test for 8th Graders is that the schools in our area don’t teach any government or civics subjects until 9th Grade. So it would sort of be like testing for geometry when all you’ve had is algebra. You might have absorbed a little bit here and there, but if you haven’t picked up at home or from TV or random reading that there are 3 branches of government that are supposed to interact in a particular way, you are unlikely to do well on this test. It is appalling, but OTOH a long time ago, I had only had one marking period of state government by the end of 8th Grade, and that was mostly about how the local governments were set up and what they were supposed to do, so I wouldn’t have done very well, either.
Like the fact that technically it’s not a constitution. And it’s not that old either.
Depends on which version. The 1867 British North America Act, passed by the imperial parliament at Westminster, is pretty old and is effectively the constitution.
(By the way, it is not possible for Canada to legally install its own constitution, because Canada is a creation of the imperial parliament, and thus its constitution has to be passed by the imperial parliament.)