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Friday, July 3, 2009


Sometimes it seems that test scores ARE the purpose of education which is in my view unfortunate. I believe there should be many instruments to measure progress. The problem with measuring progress only by a serious of scantron tests is that one is measuring test-taking skills, English reading ability as well as content knowledge. I personally prefer to know what students know, not what they can guess. For that reason I always include an oral participation grade (which includes citizenship and class attitude) as well as, essays and short KEYNETs or cultural literacy items (key names, events and treaties). One thing "experts" never point out is how easy it is to fake or cheat on scantron tests particulary when there are 45 or 50 students in a classroom designed to fit no more than 30. AP exams are more authentic instruments because:
1) they have an established curriculum which must be completed (but no single required text)if one is to be competitive.
2) the AP exam is a cumulative exam
3) it does not rely exclusively on scantron multipe choice items test include essays and sometimes listening and speaking portions as well. Altogether the parts of the test give a very reliable indication of the level of competency of the student.

And most importantly students who take AP exams -most pay a high fee ($84 or more) are motivated to try their very best AND they are rewarded if they make a passing or high score. It is not unusual for a student to get 12,24 or even 36 college credits for high school AP work. And of course even schools which (shamefully in my view) do nor award any AP credits, high AP (or IB International Baccalaureate) scores often result in scholarships.

So the AP is a voluntary national and international standard. Teachers and students can meet that standard ANY WAY THEY WANT. They can choose any textbook they like and they can choose any outside reading they like BUT they must, if they want to be successful, read widely. There is no question that the more AP tests one takes in the humanities the more acacdemic excellence is rewarded. There is no question there are correlations between AP European history, AP US history, AP English and AP Spanish literature for example. All of these tests have some themes and skills in common and the cultural literacy acquired in AP English will help one do will in AP Spansih literature (literary analysis which is essentially based on Greek, Roman and French models and terms is the almost the same in any Western language even to the point of using the same vocabulary.)

But let's look at the AP model as an example of VOLUNTARY NATIONAL STANDARDS.

If one were to push for VOLUNTARY NATIONAL STANDARDS one merely need to establish and incentive and reward for students who complete the curriculum work and do well on the testing.

Students could be given cash rewards or vvouchers for college or training schools. When I talk to students I ask them what is their greatest need and they say:
1) having a car for transportation
2) getting financial aid or tuition waivers.

Many students say it would be a very great incentive to attend school regularly and do well on standarized tests if they got something out of it.

Right now in California we spend (read waste) millions of dollars on CST's that DO NOT COUNT FOR ANYTHING AS FAR AS THE STUDENT is concerned. For the first time the score is listen on the transcript but otherwise they count for nothing. If we want a test to count we should reward students for
1) taking the test in a timely manner. RIght now school have to spend a huge amount of money tracking students down even sending people to their homes to get them out of bed. Then they are dragooned to take the test. But all the school cares about is meeting its goal of 95% of enrolled students taking the test. You can imagine the scores of some of these tests. Many students fill in the dots in a design and NEVER EVEN OPEN THE TEST PAMPHLET TO READ EVEN ONE QUESTION. If you can find a bigger waste of time and money, you tell me.
2) for achieving a certain standard or proficiency. We should give patches, free coupons for pizza, gas and even a chance to enter a lottery for a free car. Student who do the right thing should be rewarded in very substantial ways. Parents and relatives of course do this now for many middle class students but if we value academic excellence we should do more than merely awarding letter grades (which are meaningless to most students).

I personally am skeptical of IMPOSED NATIONAL standards because I know these standards would be biased and destroy local control and imput of our communities. But voluntary national standards could be encouraged by providing real incentives and rewards for schools , teachers and students. Now AP programs, for example, rely mostly on the altruism and professional pride of classroom teachers. There is no academic reward in fact teaching AP is a pay cut for most teachers because it means much more work to prepare and much more work to correct. Also most AP teachers have multiple preps anyway.
The only real sideline or bonus for AP teachers is the chance to become an AP Reader but this is a very minor sideline.

As far as books are concerned it is always interesting to discuss books. My primary impression is most "teacher ed" programs major in non-books that is to say ephemeral instruments of indoctrination that are so tendencious and dull that few in the general reading public could ever be convinced to read them. Few if any of the books read in teacher training programs could be seriously considered 'permanent' books. As long is that is the case our educational patterns will continue to be chaotic, confused and inefficently administered. Teachers, administrators , school boards, districts and states have very little idea what their aims should be in education and so progress in fts and starts aimlessly. It seems only by chance do some students get a true education.

Of course, I think there is a canon which ALL educated people should be familiar with and of course many books deal with the rearing of children, the training of youth in civility and societal norms and the instruction of youth in formal academic disciplines.

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