Let's go back to the basics

I love Jay Leno! He has the good sense to make fun of the news that deserves to be made fun of, and the talent to do it well. But by the time he comes on, I'm usually winding down for the day and getting ready for bed, so I don't see him. Last night, I had the TV on while I finished up some work, and was thoroughly amused by his first segment: Essays from the SAT. He had obtained excerpts from SAT practice exam essays, and while well-written, they were hilarious. There was the student who thought the "prostitution" in OJ Simpson's case was to blame for his not-guilty verdict, and the one who identified "Willie Nelson" as the main character in The Death of a Salesman.

My favorite, though, is a perfect example of how mixed up our modern educational approach is. The student had composed a solidly-written essay on the role credit cards (yes, credit cards) played in the birth of the Great Depression. Apparently, everyone was given a credit card, spent a lot of money on them, and then nobody was able to pay the bills when they got them. Because they had credit cards back then. Wait, you mean you missed that part of History? Me too.

The summer after I graduated from Boston College, I spent a couple of months working for a company that develops, administers and scores standardized tests for school districts. Talk about an eye-opener! When scorers are told ahead of time to be generous with our scores because the students are in an urban school district (i.e. poor and minority), to give middle school students who can write a complete sentence above-average scores...that's just not right. They may not write a good sentence; they may not write a relevant sentence. But if they can write a simple sentence with the appropriate use of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, they receive above-average scores, and with those scores, be passed to the next grade, or maybe even to college. Scary? You bet.

But it apparently is more important that our students can pass standardized tests than actually learn something. Maybe we have this backward...maybe we should go back to actually teaching our students. Then, maybe they would do well on the standardized tests without the intense preparation they are given now. Just a thought...


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