Thursday, April 16, 2009

Standardized Tests

I short bit about my opinions on state standardized testing for students in public schools, as a preempt to the posting to follow this one.

If you want to know my position, I support the testing, at all levels, but think it should be broader than it is now and include niches in, my forte, literature. Specifically, I think there should be different levels of the standardized tests (because one test for ESL and AP English students just doesn't work). I propose a standard English test, a remedial English test (to ensure the necessary skills for a career path that leads directly into the workforce, for students who plan to not finish high school, or those pursuing a path other than college), and an advanced literature test. Give teachers, parents, students and administrators final say over which test their children take as a way to promote interest in the tests for college (make it sort of like an SAT Jr., but with just as many incentives and more choices).

Obviously it solves the disgust many kids have for the tests if it means they'll receive credit for doing the test, it will boost their appeal to colleges, they have an incentive to study for the tests, and they can choose a level they will be more comfortable with. Not every student wants to work as a banker or businessman, there are many who love to work on cars and NEED to be a mechanic and providing a test that actually tests them on things they'll NEED to know in the real world is essential: How do you write up a paragraph of explanation to a customer of the services you've just performed (fits many professions), Create a sign or advertisement you would use to steer customers toward a new product or sale in your store (fits many professions), Read through these three pages of text and pick out the most important and relevant points as they pertain to your pay, workday, benefits and job description (fits many professions that involve signing contracts for work such as: contractors, carpenters, electricians, many construction workers, etc. etc. etc.

For the advanced test though, if I had my way and my wish, there should be questions included such as: 50 questions on contemporary poetry, fiction, drama and memoir; 50 questions on ethnic literature including Chinese, African, Hispanic, and Chinese-, Hispanic- and African-American literature, to name a few specifics; as well as 50-100 questions on the craft of writing. Not proving you can write a persuasive essay, but proving you can connect themes into your own life (personal/reflective/creative), and can expound meaning, themes and influenced from the works of authors spanning centuries and all around the globe. Additionally, prove you can come up with a decent creative attempt when issues a very inductive prompt, such as: Write a brief free verse poem about "What I Remember Most About That Day." Use it as your title, your first line, your theme, your influence; it's your choice.

I realize if any of my wishes were to come to fruition there would need to be immediate and comprehensive augmentations to all the tests, immediately. But I think this would test today's students in a way that current tests fail to: a student can study vocabulary and character names and pass the tests, yet they'll graduate not knowing how to be creative, a skill that is arguably more essential to ANY profession than vocabulary. The tests are a one-size-fits-all prescription which, coincidentally, is also a prescription for eventual failure.

I'm sure things will change in the years to come, though, so I am hopeful and a bit happier than I was just 5 years ago. I just hope schools broaden the types of courses, electives and paths of study they offer students. High school should act more like college prep. if we are to become the most educated nation again, with the highest percentage of college graduates in the world in just 5-10 years! We'll need smaller class sizes to keep students in schools and captivated, more course options and offerings to help them find their interests, perhaps longer school days or longer school years to help prepare them for college, and finally (and I know a lot of people will disagree with this), much tougher requirements for Honors, AP, and College Prep. courses, INCLUDING those taken during the first year or two of college. Too often now, it seems, college courses are passed down word-of-mouth as a 'joke' or 'easy,' when they are meant to be rigorous, convoluted and trying.

We'll evolve.

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