By Calvin Deyermond
An 1845 New York school report submitted to the State Assembly by the Western New York district superintendent, Enoch Ely, shows that when it comes to statistics and education, everything old is new again.
Although in 1845 there were 10,990 school districts in the state averaging fewer than 80 pupils each and now there are fewer than 700 districts with close to 5,000 students each, resistance to standardized testing was the rule.
Ely stated: “Three years ago I began administering public examinations. Teachers examined their scholars in all the branches of learning taught in schools … there was violent opposition from parents and faculty, which eventually subsided after the results began to show and parents realized a more intellectual system of education was fast obtained.” He further reports, “the most common error in teaching is permitting students to pass when they are unable to demonstrate proficiency.”
The same problems are upon us again – Common Core standards, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind. Every program trying to improve the quality of education has its detractors. The United States lags in quality and quantity of graduates at all education levels in international competition. By significantly boosting scores, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) predicts that the prosperity of those born in 2010 would rise by as much as $41 trillion over their lifetimes. As Nelson Mandela said, “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
Today’s parents are showing the same violent opposition to testing that Ely experienced. No one questions the reliability of the recent state tests, but they are questioning the validity – without knowing the true meaning of the term. Validity refers to the accuracy of an assessment – whether or not it measures what it is supposed to measure.
When I fly, I hope the pilots have been tested on takeoff and landing procedures, and I hope the exam reflects what the pilot has been taught. A standard curricula is assembled by experts to enable students to compete in a global economy. These benchmarks form the backbone of test questions, just as tests for pilots. As Ely proved 168 years ago, valid testing gets results.
Failure is a thing of the past, with parents doing anything to avoid having their children fail. Yet, failure nurtures perseverance. Let’s mobilize our energies to support struggling children, not enable them.
Let’s not criticize the leaders and educators promoting change in order to teach children to survive in a global economy. Ely was on target when he said, “permitting them to pass from lesson to lesson without engaging in systematic and thorough reviews is a common error in teaching.”
Calvin Deyermond is a former school administrator and taught statistics and measurement at Niagara University.