Thursday, June 14, 2018

We're being sorted like parts in a factory

Use a number 2 pencil or black ink, and fill in the dot completely so the machine can read it. The machine will sort right and wrong answers and give you a number that tells the decision makers how much you know and what kind of job or further education you deserve. From the ACT to the SAT to job readiness and IQ, multiple choice testing has become the key to your future or the locked door shutting you out. 

It's big business. Preparation for these exams is even bigger business. The test prep publisher ECS Learning Systems has acquired Prepworks LLC, in order to produce adaptive K through 12 test prep materials. These publications help students to do better on standardized tests and improve their chances of getting into colleges and universities.

Adaptive tests are part of Common Core, the insane educational program that requires all students in the same age group to learn the same material at the same rate and to pass the same test, regardless of their academic abilities.Our schools have been sorting students by age for over 100 years, and it hasn't been working. Our schools have been testing students with standard, multiple choice questions to sort them for about the same amount of time, and that hasn't been working, either. 

No test can measure our desire and willingness to learn, let alone our thought processes that go into learning. Choosing one dot to fill in cannot communicate the thinking that lies behind that choice. In fact, sheer luck can produce a right answer. Students are encouraged to fill in one of the dots when they don't know the answer because they might get it right by chance. When I was taking the college entrance exam, common wisdom was that "B" tended to be right more often than the other choices. When asked to identify the topic of a paragraph, we were told to choose the first sentence of the paragraph. How much thinking does that require? 

In the course of my teaching career, I have met students who couldn't do simple arithmetic at age 9, but went on to learn algebra at age 12 because they were ready for it. Other students who did well in arithmetic had great difficulty understanding the concepts of higher mathematics, but they showed great talent in creative writing. Slotting students into age groups and forcing them all to study the same curriculum leads to frustration among those who are not ready and boredom among those who learn quickly. All students are cheated by a system that forces them all to learn the same material at the same pace. Students are not machines.

 I always gave essay exams to college students. My questions gave them the opportunity to show me what they learned. Occasionally, I met a student who was terrified of tests. I did everything I could to reassure them, and they usually calmed down when they saw the questions. My favorite final exam question, which I copied from my old astronomy professor, was "What did you learn in this class?" This allowed students to write about what they did know, instead of struggling to remember a specific detail such as the classification of a species or the author of a poem. They could choose a poem that they did remember or a species that they could classify. Essay answers allowed me to get a glimpse of their thought processes, which are much more important than the ability to fill in the right dot.

The real job of a teacher is to allow students to learn, not to force them to fill in the right dot on a standardized test. 

I got a press release this morning that inspired this post. Here's the first paragraph of that release:  

SAN FRANCISCO, June 14, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Business Capital has delivered Management Buyout financing for their client, ECS Learning Systems, to acquire PREPWORKS LLC, allowing the company to create industry-leading adaptive K-12 test-prep offerings.  BizCap supported Asteria Education Inc.’s strategic acquisition of large test prep publisher ECS Learning Systems, allowing for expansion of capabilities and territory in the US.  The current transaction further grows the company’s proficiencies to include personalized learning and critical development in the lower grades to create a new kind of blended, personalized test preparation solution that aligns with rigorous state, college and career readiness standards and broadens its digital, geographic and age-group footprint.


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