Students don’t benefit from massive testing

Watch out when op-ed columnists and those without experience in teaching start cheering for corporate reform policies based on test scores. We’ve seen this before. The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (tests in fourth and eight grade for reading and math skills) don’t support Michelle Rhee’s “test till you drop, drill and kill” policies.

In fact, score gains were larger in Rhee’s District of Columbia before her reign began in 2007. What the NAEP does reveal is the continuing disparity based on race and income. Since 2011, score gaps of black and Hispanic students compared with suburban white kids did not narrow. This inequality and injustice in public education was fully exposed by the Kerner Commission’s report on civil disorders in 1968. The Common Core curriculum standards may bring all America’s children into parity with the best schools in the world – like Finland’s, which test infrequently.

Common Core standards switch the emphasis from fact memorization to the highest intellectual activities all humans do. We all make value judgments, bring facts and details into a meaningful unity and break apart experience into significant details (evaluation, synthesis, analysis). This is nothing new. In the 1920s, education philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was criticizing memorization for its own sake as “mental dryrot” and advocating fewer subjects and greater depth.

Instead of massive testing, let New York State’s Education Department give three Regents exams: fourth grade, eighth grade and 11th grade. That’s it, no more. All other testing is done by the teachers, graded by the teachers and used as teachers see fit. Another difference for depth might be to combine math and science as one test, and English Language Arts and social studies as a set. In high school, make it literature and history and have plenty of real-life, problem-solving essays, not multiple guess. In elementary school, the Regents tests would be diagnostic; in high school for graduation; in neither case for firing. Pearson and Co. might not be too happy, but Buffalo’s kids would benefit.

Ray Peterson