"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Testing = Less Historical Understanding and Knowledge

Last week the academic darling of the Far Right, Diane Ravitch, commented at Huffington Post on what seems to her the inexplicable lack of historical knowledge by today's school kids. As an historian, herself, and big time supporter of the "accountability" madness for the past 25 years that has succeeded in shoving school curriculums into a crushing black hole, one can imagine how Dr. Ravitch would rather ignore and forget her own complicity in the further stupidifying of the American population when it comes to understanding their past.

Well, Dr. Ravitch--here is a concise answer to what puzzles you, more succinct than I could ever say it myself:

Re “Students Gain Only Marginally on Test of U.S. History” (news article, May 17): The idea of a “test” has again hijacked the public debate on education. Because of No Child Left Behind and overzealous states and cities, curriculum and teaching in English and math classrooms have been reduced to test prep, tests, test scoring and test review.

Are multiple-choice tests what we want for the teaching of history? Shouldn’t we clamor instead for policies that support in-depth inquiry, use of multiple sources and rigorous analysis of historical evidence?

In a letter signed by two dozen leading historians, Eric Foner, the Columbia University professor and past president of the American Historical Association, argues: “The use of such testing as a primary assessment tool ... de-emphasizes the analytical reading, writing, and thinking abilities required by the discipline ... Students may not learn to make informed judgments central to the interpretation and understanding of history.”

Testing has become the problem, not the solution.

Ann Cook
Phyllis Tashlik
New York, May 18, 2007
The writers are, respectively, co-chairwoman of the New York Performance Standards Consortium and director of the Center for Inquiry in Teaching and Learning.

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