Testing - A Campaign to Brainwash Our Kids?
Dana D. Kelley
of almost all education reform is a heavy reliance on additional
"testing," which I put in quotation marks because not only is it a false
premise for change, it’s an unreliable (at best) indicator of true
At its worst, testing is nothing short of Orwellian mind
The most recent school test results published were from the
National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, which sounds, like so
many bureaucratic creations, respectable enough. It’s a product of the
U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics
and, according to its Web site, "is the only nationally representative and
continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in
various subject areas."
"Nationally representative" means exactly what you think it
does: Only a small group of students is sampled and the sample
statistically applied to the population. That’s fine for polling public
opinion, but folly for any true educational measurement.
NAEP’s self-stated sampling is about 2,500 students per
grade (fourth, eighth and 12th) in an average state. That would be 7,500
students tested out of 450,000 total in Arkansas, or possibly fewer if we were considered less than average.
The folly only begins there, however. In true national
testing fashion, both the general subject matter and actual test questions
reek of educational interpretation rather than instruction, with an
unbearable dose of political correctness to boot.
This test isn’t about what students know at all. It’s about
what special-interest groups want our children to think.
For each subject, NAEP produces a "content framework." I
chose to review the U.S. history framework because (1) history was and is
one of my favorite subjects, and (2) history instruction is rife with
revisionism among radical fringe groups that seek to rewrite it.
The history framework is an 84-page document outlining
everything from a general discussion of the importance of history to how
NAEP divides it into four general historical themes across seven
On page 42, under the heading, "Ways of Knowing and Thinking
About U.S. History," NAEP presents two kinds of "cognitive processes" by
which students learn to know and think: historical knowledge and
perspective, and historical analysis and interpretation.
The two are not equally weighted in the "distribution of the
exercise pool," or test questions, of course. In the fourth grade,
interpretive questions represents 60 percent of the test, climbing to 70
percent for 12 th-graders.
Despite the NAEP’s flowery highbrow language, this test is
more about what a student feels about history than what actually happened.
The NAEP is explicitly unapologetic about attaching more weight to
interpretation. Its history assessment, it claims, requires higher order
thinking processes, the questions for which "will assess more than
skillful reading and fact finding." For my tax dollar, I’d be happy to at
least get skillful reading and fact-finding.
After growing weary from wading through the framework’s
melodramatic phrases, like requiring students to "marshal [sic] a body of
facts" and to "demonstrate that they have a fund of knowledge," I looked
over some of the NAEP’s example test questions. I first chose reading to
see what literary excerpts might be covered.
Of the 79 questions listed for 12th-grade reading, 15
referred to an eloquent passage from. . . the 1040 EZ tax form
Of the 38 questions in 12th-grade science, three were in
reference to this premise: "Suppose that you are asked to design and
create an information poster about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
(AIDS) for your high school." Students were then asked to identify
"distinct ways" that AIDS can be transmitted and prevented. I
double-checked to make sure I was in the science category and not social
issues or sex education.
The history questions for impressionable fourth-graders were
a litany of championed special-interest achievements, from identifying
Native American artifacts to slave traffic routes to child labor laws to
women’s roles in society. Out of 77 questions, only six addressed the
founding period or its documents ; 13 assessed knowledge of slavery and
20th century civil rights issues. Only one question mentioned a founding
father by name—Washington and Jefferson in the same multiple choice
question—but slave Phyllis Wheatley was mentioned twice, as was Martin
Luther King Jr.
The word "republic" was nowhere to be found, or defined, as
though "democracy" is its synonymous substitute. In fact, NAEP makes
expressly clear its disdain for history as "an endless series of facts,
events and people long-since dead." So much for the notion that history
repeats itself and can thus be learned from.
When I looked at the demonstration booklet of an actual
test for fourth graders for reading and math, I couldn’t help but notice
that there were as many questions about the student as about the test
subjects. There were 10 reading questions in the demo, but 16 in the
"reading background questionnaire," in which students would respond to a
statement like "When I read books, I learn a lot" by marking whether the
statement was "not like" or "a little like" or "a lot like" him or her.
The six math questions were seemingly matched by six "math
background" questions, except three of the background questions had
sub-questions : No. 1 actually had 1a through 1f, No. 3 had 3a-3c and No.
6 had 6a-6g, for an actual total of 19 questions, e.g. whether the student
agreed, disagreed or wasn’t sure that "All students can do well in
mathematics if they try."
It’s not terribly distressing that Arkansas
students aren’t "proficient" with this kind of test, which says a lot more
about the campaign to brainwash our kids than the state of public school
Reprinted by permission
of Dana D. Kelley, a free-lance writer from Jonesboro, Arkansas.
This story was published Friday, June 27, 2003 in Arkansas Democrat
Gazette under the title
thinking : Questioning the test