Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Testing Is So "Testing"

EWU Campus 1963

In 1962 Victor Goertzel, a physiologist specializing in psychotherapy, and Mildred George Goertzel, director of a school for emotionally disturbed children wrote, “Cradles of Eminence: A Provocative Study of the Childhoods of over 400 Famous Twentieth-Century Men and Women.”  In the book they relate andidotes from many highly productive people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Winston Churchill.  These prominent people of the Twentieth Century liked teachers who supplied materials for various projects about which the students were passionate.  When it was time for testing, what was learned by memorization of various facts and statistics in their preparation for testing, caused them to loose focus, creativity, and their passion.

Einstein is quoted as saying, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book.”  Now it would be said, “that I can so easily look up on the Internet.”

All this is to ask-- is there an answer to the right balance for testing and for learning? Educators, parents, and students rely on tests to determine how students are progressing in their educational pursuits.  But if these tests are detrimental in the long run should they be relied upon to determine success in school?

It has been reported that the United States is falling behind in our ranking in relation to other countries.  This standing has been disputed. In an article by Marion Brady, veteran educator who has long argued that public education needs a paradigm shift, he writes:

An illustration: As I write, my wife is in the kitchen. She calls me for lunch. The small television suspended under the kitchen cabinets is tuned to CNN, and Time cover girl Michelle Rhee is being interviewed.
“On international tests,” she says, “the U.S. ranks 27th from the top.”
Michelle Rhee, three-year teacher, education reactionary, mainstream media star, fired authoritarian head of a school system being investigated for cheating on standardized tests, is given a national platform to misinform. She doesn’t explain that, at the insistence of policymakers, and unlike other countries, America tests every kid — the mentally disabled, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the transient, the troubled, those for whom English is a second language. That done, the scores are lumped together. She doesn’t even hint that when the scores of the disadvantaged aren’t counted, American students are at the top. If Michelle Rhee doesn’t know that, she shouldn’t be on CNN. If she knows it but fails to point it out, she shouldn’t be on CNN.”

So what is the truth?  In my own experience I don’t recall testing being such a big deal. I attended public schools in Alexandria, VA.  My aunt and uncle, college professors in Wisconsin, believed that my siblings and I had an inferior education. But of the five children in my family we all attended these schools through high school for my older brother, my younger sister, and me, and through Jr. High for my two younger brothers.  All five of us are college graduates. 

The only testing I recall was when I was in 10th grade and then again when I was a senior. I don’t recollect being prepared for these tests.  The tests I took in Virginia were the ACT and the SAT. When I decided to attend college in Washington State I was required to take their CEE or the Washington Pre- College Test.  Again I do not remember any preparation for the test.

When our son was applying for academic and music scholarships for college we sent him to a class to teach him how to take the SAT.  He believes the class was of no help in raising his scores.

In some cases these tests add to stress for teachers and students in the public schools.  In certain schools each month, 18 or more students will move in, or the same number, will move out of the school. It is unlikely that the new students will be in the same place on the test.  Another problem is using computers for the tests.  There are not enough computers.  Worse yet, some students don’t know how to use computers, and also may not speak English. 

So the conversation will continue.  I’m still impressed with Marva Collin’s Socratic teaching technique.  She started with no books.  Her students were children who lived in a ghetto.  All learned and became productive members of society.  Maybe we just need good teachers and not bother with the tests!  What do you think?


  1. Ain't it the truth. Our state legislature just passed a bill removing some 40 hours from testing in the K-12 arena. I think if that meant 40 hours per grade level, it might get us closer to a solution, as well as providing needed time to teach all students. Unfortunately, I think it's a baby step, with the 40 hours spread out across K-12. But we do have to start somewhere, and I applaud them for starting the ball rolling. I think all teachers would be better teachers if we gave them back some time to teach -- so I think yes to your final question.

    1. I hear home schoolers do better on the tests than those in public schools. Thanks for your comment. We just keep trying!