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Jewish World Review April 11, 2002 / 30 Nisan, 5762

Mark Goldblatt

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Consumer Reports

Why profs fear testing | WITH the latest whiff of barrel-bottom test scores still wafting through the halls of the Board of Education, the Professional Staff Congress - the union of 20,000 faculty and staff of the City University of New York - has proposed a rather straightforward solution: Get rid of standardized testing.

According to the PSC, such "high stakes" testing has become "a growth industry," "a gatekeeper that unduly influences education decisions" and "has provoked a backlash . . . by parents, students advocates, educators and scholars." The union therefore urges that school districts be allowed to adopt "multiple assessments including portfolios and other forms of authentic assessment."

You've got to admire the union's sheer audacity. Do away with standardized tests, and you immediately solve the public schools' "grade level" problem. The Board of Ed will no longer have to answer for the 42 percent of fourth graders who can't calculate at fourth-grade level or the 57 percent who can't read and write at fourth-grade level. Or for the 67 percent of eighth graders who can't calculate at eighth-grade level or 77 percent who can't read or write at eighth-grade level. No more test scores means no more egg on the education establishment's collective face.

Do away with standardized tests, and you also magically close the appalling racial divide in test scores. By eighth grade, only 23 percent of black students and 24 percent of Hispanic students are reading and writing at grade level, and only 12 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics are doing math at grade level.

Such numbers, according to the PSC, indicate that the tests are "culturally biased against . . . students of color." Except of course that Asian students equal or outperform white students in both fourth and eighth grades. Then again, yellow's not really a color like black or brown, is it?

On the other hand, you've got to ask why a union of college employees wants to drop standardized math and English testing in elementary, middle and high schools when the first things high school graduates face after their acceptance to the public universities are . . . drum roll please . . . standardized placement tests in math and English.

Ah, but what about "authentic assessment" - such as portfolios?

Suppose the Motor Vehicle Bureau permitted would-be motorists to skip in-car exams if they produced videotapes of themselves carefully adjusting their rearview mirrors, signaling lane changes and making smooth three-point turns: Would our streets be filled with safer drivers? Advocates of "portfolio assessment" seem to think so.

Such ass-backward thinking, in the world of public education, is sustained by an unholy alliance among:

  • pedagogic theorists who want feel-good, communal, non-hierarchical classrooms . . . but don't want reality-checks for their theories;

  • teachers unions who want their members to get better pay and benefits . . . but not be held accountable for measurable results, and

  • progressive parents who want effective public schools . . . but don't want to pressure their children to do their schoolwork or discipline them if they don't.

The first two groups are beyond reform. So, as a college professor who teaches remedial courses and grades placement exams, let me address myself, bluntly, to the parents: Even if your little darlings are putting together lovely portfolios and bringing home report cards filled with A's, if they cannot sit down and pass basic skills tests in English and math, they're going to wind up taking remedial courses in college.

If they get that far.

JWR contributor Mark Goldblatt's novel, Africa Speaks , will be published this month. Comment by clicking here.

03/31/02: If you cannot attack a position on "straightforward logical grounds," what grounds remain? Welcome to Columbia U
03/21/02: Last week, in case you missed it, was a banner week for cheese
03/01/02: Black History Month distorts accomplishments

© 2002, Mark Goldblatt