Among the most articulate critics of the tests are the boycotting students, who complain about narrowing opportunities and shrinking curricula. The most exciting ninth-grade course in his school, says Will Greene, a high school sophomore in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is a science-and-technology class with a lot of hands-on experimentation. In the 1998-1999 school year, when students could take the class without worrying about MCAS, eighty students enrolled; this past year enrollment fell to thirty. Greene says that students feel the course will not help them pass the test, and failing the test next year could mean they don't get a diploma. "At least create a test," wrote Alison Maurer, an eighth-grader in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "that doesn't limit what students learn, something that shows what we have learned, not what we haven't."
Since some of you may not have the time or means to read the article in the current ATLANTIC MONTHLY to which I pointed you in my previous post, let me just quote the above paragraph. It never seems to occur to test advocates that the cost of getting those wonderful standardized instruments shoved down everyone's throat may throwing some pretty admirable babies out with the bath water. Of course, student and parental opinions only matter when they are the same as one's own, right? The parents and students cited in Schrag's article are no doubt fuzzy liberals all, racists (well-meaning or otherwise), or dupes of the educrats.
When I took the Ph.D qualifying exams in the English department of the University of Florida in 1976, it comprised three two-hour sessions each of which required that we choose ONE of more than a dozen questions and address it as thoroughly as we could. I was informed by a couple of my professors that the point of the exam was to let as show what we knew, not expose what we didn't know. Sounds like Alison Maurer would concur, no doubt an indication that the rather traditional, conservative faculty that ran that department a quarter century ago must have been operating at an eight grade level. Probably should have given us all standardized, objective tests of important facts and dates from the history of literature, a doctoral-level version of the ETS' old favorite Test of Standard Written English, and an essay question in which our interpretive/critical abilities were measured against the "standard" interpretation of a given work, probably the interpretation given by the champion of objective criticism, E.D. Hirsch. Instead of the honors pass I earned, I would have been kicked out of the program on the spot, saving me and the university all sorts of time and money.
But what about "the basics"? Shouldn't there be SOME barebones minimum to which we can hold EVERYONE'S little feet? How can we be effective Inquisitors (sorry, I mean examiners) without knowing What Every Child Needs To Know? What about "core knowledge?" Why, if every school and teacher can set its, his, or her own standards, we'd have. . . DIVERSITY.