First, a word about Nazis and Free Speech, and other matters: Catch up on the latest news about Repression of Nazis, and join the conversation about Free Speech and how sometimes it is better to shut up, over at the X Blog.
Today I am preparing a presentation and discussion for a course in AP Biology. Amanda and her colleague have been teaching AP Bio all year, and the test was just given, so there is nothing to live for any more as it were. I asked Amanda yesterday why the students even show up now that the test is over, and she looked at me funny and said “well, they’re required to.” … Oh right, high school.
Amanda’s students took the AP exam, and her other students took the Minnesota state exam, which is how we evaluate our schools and teachers, which meant pulling them out of class. From another teacher at a different school I heard a horror story about a bunch of students who, part way through the two day long state test, pressed the wrong button and are now locked out of finishing the rest of it having only done half. (One of those “Are you done, click continue to end test OK to continue test?: OK, Continue, Cancel” dialogs where “OK” means you are done and “Continue” you are … no wait, I have that backwards…)
The AP test is given once at the same time everywhere in the Universe, and the state test is given at once everywhere in the state, regardless of the schedule of the schools. This means disruption and idiotic scheduling quirks. I’m pretty sure that so far I’m the only person on the planet who has noticed this, so I just want to point it out. PEOPLE YOU ARE DOING IT RONG!!!
I propose the following rules:
1) Classroom days established in a given school are not available for testing of any kind other than that which is part of the curriculum and on the syllabus for a given course. Outside test taking agencies must negotiate with school districts or states to set aside test taking days.
2) If an outside agency such as the College Board or a State Education Department wants to provide a test, it must be provided at the END of the learning period. Not long after, not before the end. If tests can not be provided this way, they should not be bothered with.
If these rules were strictly enforced, there would eventually be a “National School Year” which would be a good thing.
This is where the “local rule is better” fetish/meme has ruined things. The belief is that decisions are usually better if made on the local level. An example of this would be how to spend park board money; do we need more bike trails or more playgrounds or more public gardens? Local people figure this out and decide and live with their decision. National level experts could be consultants. Perhaps it is known that the final decision is often shaped not by people’s needs and desires, bur rather, by who shows up at the meetings, and bikers and gardeners, being radical activists, thus get their way leaving the children playing in the street. So, local rule becomes stupid unless it refers to larger scale over-arching expertise. But if it does that, it works.
What about a strategy for putting up communications satellites? Locally, people use cell phones, right? So, shouldn’t they know better than the people at Goddard or NASA or ESA how, when, where, to up up which satellites?
Well, no. Because among the good people of Longville, Minnesota or Coxsackie, NY, there are hardly any satellite communications engineers or rocket scientists. Local rule is then bad.
Despite the fact that we can see that for some things local decision making is good, other things bad, when it comes to education it is often assumed, almost religiously, that local bodies can always make better decisions (with homeschooling being the One True Way according to some). But this is often stupid.
If learning time in classrooms (as a proxy for what happens in schools, regardless of even if they have classrooms) and the schedule of coverage of topics across time were sacred, then testing agencies would have to adapt. That adaptation would cause tests to become much more expensive because the first reaction would be to make multiple tests. But then there would be discounted tests given at ideal times, and when that ideal time is would be determined by negotiation and market forces. And eventually, the Free Hand would produce an outcome which is … well, the sucky one we have now, actually.
Alternatively, we could simply decide what to do using our brains rather than our … well, whatever other organ we were using … at the state, regional, or national level.
We could have a state wide or national schedule. That would not be hard and it would not really be oppressive as many people knee-jerkedly assume. Right now, it is oppressive that in most (maybe all) schools in Minnesota, AP courses run in schedule beyond the AP test, and administrators and teachers pretend this is normal, though in fact it makes zero sense. The state wide tests are held at seemingly random moments throughout the year and are not administered to students who have met certain requirements, but rather, to students who are of a certain age (and thus have probably, but not necessarily, met those requirements). If there was a state wide or national schedule, there could be “test periods” perhaps twice during the school year during which the tests have to be given, and anyone taking tests takes them.
The widespread belief that all testing is bad is significantly buttressed by the fact that the administration of testing is severely problematic and cumbersome. Testing is probably important and useful. But carrying out testing in the stoopidest way possible … i.e., doing the thing that checks if the students are ensmartening at the right pace in a way that is utterly moronic … merely sets up our young people to not have much trust in the system being well designed or the people who run it being thoughtful or even capable of thought.
So, I’m preparing this presentation to give in AP class tomorrow … on human-plant interaction in the Ituri Forest among Efe (Pygmy) foragers … because the students have no work to do pertaining to the test they already took, and I want to give Amanda and her colleague a day off. Better than showing a movie!
(Depending on the movie.)