If they can’t pass the test, get rid of the test

For all that I love my native Oklahoma, education is not one of its strong points.  Harold Cole, writing in the Daily Oklahoman, gives  an example of the mindset that keeps holding it back:

A group of school superintendents recently expressed concern that about 6,000 high school seniors won’t graduate this year because of mandatory end-of-instruction tests. While others attempt to ascertain why this problem exists in order to propose preventive measures, Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, already knows what to do — simply pass legislation eliminating the tests. According to McPeak, “Every youngster who lives up to the contract the state has set up for them — which is complete this amount of coursework and you can graduate” — should receive their high school diplomas.

McPeak’s message seems to be, after serving time in classrooms, give students diplomas whether they learned anything or not. Never mind that giving out undeserved diplomas sets up students to fail in colleges and deceives prospective employers and military branches that require applicants to have legitimate high school diplomas that signify basic competency in math, logic and communication skills.

Rather than making conditions worse, legislators should do something to transform a public education system whose students struggle to pass end-of-instruction tests and, in comprehension of science and math, lag significantly behind students in other industrialized countries.

Correcting these deficiencies requires implementing mandatory coordinated science and math curricula targeted to grades 1-6. Quizzical young minds must be rewarded by instruction that expands understanding of surroundings. Such structured learning provides students with foundations and confidence to excel in future courses.

Science and math courses in grades 7-12 should be reviewed to ensure coverage of core subject matter. Weekly detailed course objectives and outlines should be made available to students, parents and others interested in improving student learning.

And most importantly, administrators and teachers must leave comfort zones and exert tough love by requiring students to earn grades by learning subject matter as indicated by performances on well-written quizzes, periodic exams and mandatory comprehensive final exams. Initially, enforcing this policy will cause consternation among students and teachers since traditions of allowing students to pass science and math courses without learning subject matter will end, and teachers’ abilities to educate will be spotlighted.

via Status quo in Oklahoma education not good enough | NewsOK.com.

I’ve heard school compared to prison, but this takes it to a new level.  If you do the time, they have to let you out!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • James Sarver

    I think Rep. McPeak has a point. It is not as if there are no existing metrics and Oklahoma graduates all comers. Oklahoma high shool graduates have passed all their classes and transcripts listing grades and GPA are available to be provided to interested parties. There are SAT and ACT tests that most students take and the results can be requested by interested parties.

    Is my state doing a great job educating high school students? Mostly no. But the state legistature piling on more testing and metrics without providing better resources to achieve the intended goals is not helpful. Nobody needs these end-of-instruction tests to tell us the goals have not been achieved. Nobody who is paying attention is deceived.

  • James Sarver

    I think Rep. McPeak has a point. It is not as if there are no existing metrics and Oklahoma graduates all comers. Oklahoma high shool graduates have passed all their classes and transcripts listing grades and GPA are available to be provided to interested parties. There are SAT and ACT tests that most students take and the results can be requested by interested parties.

    Is my state doing a great job educating high school students? Mostly no. But the state legistature piling on more testing and metrics without providing better resources to achieve the intended goals is not helpful. Nobody needs these end-of-instruction tests to tell us the goals have not been achieved. Nobody who is paying attention is deceived.

  • Rose

    “Nobody who is paying attention is deceived”. I’m not so sure.
    I’ve always wondered why employers don’t request transcripts and look at rank in class, GPA, etc. Statewide exams are useful; they might be renamed “Minimum Essentials Exams”.

  • Rose

    “Nobody who is paying attention is deceived”. I’m not so sure.
    I’ve always wondered why employers don’t request transcripts and look at rank in class, GPA, etc. Statewide exams are useful; they might be renamed “Minimum Essentials Exams”.

  • rlewer

    In some states the test writers get carried away about what is basic to the subject and try to make all students experts in that particular field. Do all students need to proficient in quadratic equations.?

    The tests should actually be what that were proclaimed to be – minimum essentials.

  • rlewer

    In some states the test writers get carried away about what is basic to the subject and try to make all students experts in that particular field. Do all students need to proficient in quadratic equations.?

    The tests should actually be what that were proclaimed to be – minimum essentials.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    High school diplomas are already not worth the paper they’re printed on.

    So…. who cares.

    A student that wants to go on to college will probably pass the stupid test but even if he doesn’t, he will certainly have opportunity take more tests before being admitted to college.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    High school diplomas are already not worth the paper they’re printed on.

    So…. who cares.

    A student that wants to go on to college will probably pass the stupid test but even if he doesn’t, he will certainly have opportunity take more tests before being admitted to college.

  • kerner

    I understand the problem, but I don’t know what, exactly, to do about it. I understand the legislature’s desire to have some say in defining what a High School diploma really means (eg. “a graduate of an Oklahoma high school can, in fact, understand quadratic equasions”). And the state has an interest in this because state funds (and therefore the taxes of all Oklahomans) are used to finance the schools. When people pay for something, they have a right to a say in the quality of the product. And the employers of Oklahome, who also pay taxes, ought to be entitled to expect to have some idea of what a high school graduate knows without having to spend more money to administer there own tests. Not to mention forcing technical schools and colleges to have to include courses in subjects that high schools have supposedly already taught.

    If a high school education is worthless (which I do not necessarily dispute) by what right do we compel young people to attend school or compel parents to send them there?

  • kerner

    I understand the problem, but I don’t know what, exactly, to do about it. I understand the legislature’s desire to have some say in defining what a High School diploma really means (eg. “a graduate of an Oklahoma high school can, in fact, understand quadratic equasions”). And the state has an interest in this because state funds (and therefore the taxes of all Oklahomans) are used to finance the schools. When people pay for something, they have a right to a say in the quality of the product. And the employers of Oklahome, who also pay taxes, ought to be entitled to expect to have some idea of what a high school graduate knows without having to spend more money to administer there own tests. Not to mention forcing technical schools and colleges to have to include courses in subjects that high schools have supposedly already taught.

    If a high school education is worthless (which I do not necessarily dispute) by what right do we compel young people to attend school or compel parents to send them there?

  • kerner

    oops. That should be, “a high school graduate can, in fact, spell “quadratic equations”. ;)

  • kerner

    oops. That should be, “a high school graduate can, in fact, spell “quadratic equations”. ;)

  • DonS

    I don’t like the state and federal government imposing standardized test requirements, because those tests take authority and flexibility away from the local district, and thus, away from the parents. Essentially, they substitute the judgment of education bureaucrats for parents insofar as what the metrics of learning should be. The school districts should be testing and evaluating students on their own, and only passing those who earn it. No need or desire for micromanagement of this process by centralized bureaucracies, at the expense of parental input and involvement.

    These kinds of tests, many of which are required by the abominable “No Child Left Behind” program, are causing districts to “teach to the test”, and forego other subjects and approaches that may otherwise work better for the students they have to teach.

    Kerner raises a good point — these federal and state educrats have inserted their noses into the local education tent because they provide funding. Well, the answer, of course, is to stop the funding — stop confiscating local property taxes and return those taxes to the districts so that they are locally funded. Return control to the parents and local taxpayers, where it belongs. The federal government should get entirely out of the business of public education, and state governments should only be helping out those low-wealth districts that cannot afford to fund locally.

  • DonS

    I don’t like the state and federal government imposing standardized test requirements, because those tests take authority and flexibility away from the local district, and thus, away from the parents. Essentially, they substitute the judgment of education bureaucrats for parents insofar as what the metrics of learning should be. The school districts should be testing and evaluating students on their own, and only passing those who earn it. No need or desire for micromanagement of this process by centralized bureaucracies, at the expense of parental input and involvement.

    These kinds of tests, many of which are required by the abominable “No Child Left Behind” program, are causing districts to “teach to the test”, and forego other subjects and approaches that may otherwise work better for the students they have to teach.

    Kerner raises a good point — these federal and state educrats have inserted their noses into the local education tent because they provide funding. Well, the answer, of course, is to stop the funding — stop confiscating local property taxes and return those taxes to the districts so that they are locally funded. Return control to the parents and local taxpayers, where it belongs. The federal government should get entirely out of the business of public education, and state governments should only be helping out those low-wealth districts that cannot afford to fund locally.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    How about some compassion for the students who cannot pass the test? The test is too hard for some x% of students and nothing is ever going to change that. Not everyone can achieve what the test demands. They can however to be trained to do a variety of useful vocations if we are willing to train them. Lately we have been unwilling to train those who cannot pass certain tests. How unfair is that? High school is not the place to wash out students. We have college for that. High school students should be educated to do useful work commensurate with their interest and abilities to help them reach their goals, not our goals. Every kid who is not a discipline problem should get enough training that he can get a job upon completion of high school with the assistance of a job placement office on his high school campus.

    High schools fail students by not training them to be employable and not helping them transition into job training programs that they can actually do.

    These tests are an exercise in futility. Every test has some minimum threshold that some will not be able to achieve. Based on the questions they include, they know what percent will pass when they write the thing. They already have the records of how the students have been doing on achievement tests.

    I fail to see how such a test serves the needs of students.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    How about some compassion for the students who cannot pass the test? The test is too hard for some x% of students and nothing is ever going to change that. Not everyone can achieve what the test demands. They can however to be trained to do a variety of useful vocations if we are willing to train them. Lately we have been unwilling to train those who cannot pass certain tests. How unfair is that? High school is not the place to wash out students. We have college for that. High school students should be educated to do useful work commensurate with their interest and abilities to help them reach their goals, not our goals. Every kid who is not a discipline problem should get enough training that he can get a job upon completion of high school with the assistance of a job placement office on his high school campus.

    High schools fail students by not training them to be employable and not helping them transition into job training programs that they can actually do.

    These tests are an exercise in futility. Every test has some minimum threshold that some will not be able to achieve. Based on the questions they include, they know what percent will pass when they write the thing. They already have the records of how the students have been doing on achievement tests.

    I fail to see how such a test serves the needs of students.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “If a high school education is worthless (which I do not necessarily dispute) by what right do we compel young people to attend school or compel parents to send them there?”

    Exactly!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “If a high school education is worthless (which I do not necessarily dispute) by what right do we compel young people to attend school or compel parents to send them there?”

    Exactly!

  • kerner

    sg raises a lot of good points about the nature of education and our system. Years ago, as its name implies, a “high” school education was a step in “higher”, not basic, education. Higher education, or a “liberal” education, wasn’t intended to be a credential for employment. It was intended to make you a better person by acquainting you with the wisdom of humanity. And nobody would have suggested that it was for everybody or even the majority of people.

    Once high school was not considered to be for everybody, and it was a step at which people “washed out”. Neither of my grandfathers got a high school education, and both of them achieved success in business (although one went broke during the depression). To come right down to it, a person needs, and I do means needs to master literacy and pre-algebraic math to function in society, and not really any more. To do many jobs some technical skills and higher math must be learned, but that used to be acquired, if need was, in apprenticeships or technical education, not “high” school, which was intended to prepare the student for college, or it would just help a student learn a lower level of the collected wisdom of humanity, if the student wanted to learn it and was capable of doing so.

    So, I guess, if a high school diploma is worthless, why should we have compassion for people who can’t get a worthless document? It’s like feeling sorry for someone who doesn’t have any monopoly money.

  • kerner

    sg raises a lot of good points about the nature of education and our system. Years ago, as its name implies, a “high” school education was a step in “higher”, not basic, education. Higher education, or a “liberal” education, wasn’t intended to be a credential for employment. It was intended to make you a better person by acquainting you with the wisdom of humanity. And nobody would have suggested that it was for everybody or even the majority of people.

    Once high school was not considered to be for everybody, and it was a step at which people “washed out”. Neither of my grandfathers got a high school education, and both of them achieved success in business (although one went broke during the depression). To come right down to it, a person needs, and I do means needs to master literacy and pre-algebraic math to function in society, and not really any more. To do many jobs some technical skills and higher math must be learned, but that used to be acquired, if need was, in apprenticeships or technical education, not “high” school, which was intended to prepare the student for college, or it would just help a student learn a lower level of the collected wisdom of humanity, if the student wanted to learn it and was capable of doing so.

    So, I guess, if a high school diploma is worthless, why should we have compassion for people who can’t get a worthless document? It’s like feeling sorry for someone who doesn’t have any monopoly money.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @ kerner,

    It’s not really about the credential. It is about the education. Well to do folks who are savvy can figure out how to get educated if the state doesn’t help them out. But what about the vulnerable kids at the bottom who could be both more prosperous and more productive if we would teach them something they can actually do instead of this idealistic notion that anyone can anything. It is not true, and operating as though it is hurts people. We end up just dumping them after they fail English and higher maths and it doesn’t help them or society. I think it is immoral and dumb. It wastes human resources and causes people hardships.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @ kerner,

    It’s not really about the credential. It is about the education. Well to do folks who are savvy can figure out how to get educated if the state doesn’t help them out. But what about the vulnerable kids at the bottom who could be both more prosperous and more productive if we would teach them something they can actually do instead of this idealistic notion that anyone can anything. It is not true, and operating as though it is hurts people. We end up just dumping them after they fail English and higher maths and it doesn’t help them or society. I think it is immoral and dumb. It wastes human resources and causes people hardships.

  • kerner

    sg:

    I’m not disagreeing with you generally. I’m just not sure what you are saying we should do.

    Are you saying that all public high schools should have vocational tracks for those students who can’t succeed at higher education or who just feel more inclined to trades as a career? Would they get a distinct diploma or certificate or something that indicated what they learned in school, as opposed to what the college bound kids learned?

    The reason I ask is that the source of this controversy is kids getting diplomas that don’t mean anything (well, it means their attendance was ok and they have a pulse). The state of Oklahoma tried to come up with a test that requires students to be proficient in certain things to get a diploma, which is basically an attempt to say, a HS diploma means x, y, and z. I believe that comes from good intentions, but there are some valid objections to it.

  • kerner

    sg:

    I’m not disagreeing with you generally. I’m just not sure what you are saying we should do.

    Are you saying that all public high schools should have vocational tracks for those students who can’t succeed at higher education or who just feel more inclined to trades as a career? Would they get a distinct diploma or certificate or something that indicated what they learned in school, as opposed to what the college bound kids learned?

    The reason I ask is that the source of this controversy is kids getting diplomas that don’t mean anything (well, it means their attendance was ok and they have a pulse). The state of Oklahoma tried to come up with a test that requires students to be proficient in certain things to get a diploma, which is basically an attempt to say, a HS diploma means x, y, and z. I believe that comes from good intentions, but there are some valid objections to it.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@12 (and sg):

    Personally, I think we need to be explicit about what’s required here, and about what I think sg is at least implying. In short, we need to do what, in general, the British and other Europeans do: “tracking.” Yes, I said it. Cue cries of “racism” and “predeterminism” and “elitism” and all that, but there needs to be some sort of firm winnowing process to determine which students would actually benefit from post-secondary education and which should be encouraged to pursue other, more practical vocations instead.

    If these sorts of entrance/proficiency exams are politically distasteful at the moment, we could, at the very least, restore the various shop classes (carpentry, electrical, computer, welding, etc.) that were once an integral part of any high school’s curriculum but were systematically gutted in the past couple of decades in favor of sexual education and other feel-good classes that are easier on the budget. Previously, students who had no interest or proficiency in British literature or calculus–a category that I suspect encompasses a majority of students–could find fulfilling and educational work in classes that activated “manual” skills–and they would thus be prepared for satisfying work in those trades after obtaining a diploma as well.

    These days, as is abundantly clear from my own experience in a thoroughly working-class Appalachian town, most students write off the whole high-school experience as an irrelevant waste of time (and an achievement that is, perhaps truly, beyond their competence) and resort instead to alcohol, drugs, and, in general, aimlessness and shiftlessness. This applies just as much to white students as to black (and other minority) students, by the way. Obviously, these decisions typically result in chronic unemployment and the like later in life. There is literally no point in most of these students attending high school to study Shakespeare or Spanish (much as I like both subjects), and public education turns out to be a huge broken promise for them. And just try having a successful career, as did both my grandfathers, with nothing more than an eight grade education.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@12 (and sg):

    Personally, I think we need to be explicit about what’s required here, and about what I think sg is at least implying. In short, we need to do what, in general, the British and other Europeans do: “tracking.” Yes, I said it. Cue cries of “racism” and “predeterminism” and “elitism” and all that, but there needs to be some sort of firm winnowing process to determine which students would actually benefit from post-secondary education and which should be encouraged to pursue other, more practical vocations instead.

    If these sorts of entrance/proficiency exams are politically distasteful at the moment, we could, at the very least, restore the various shop classes (carpentry, electrical, computer, welding, etc.) that were once an integral part of any high school’s curriculum but were systematically gutted in the past couple of decades in favor of sexual education and other feel-good classes that are easier on the budget. Previously, students who had no interest or proficiency in British literature or calculus–a category that I suspect encompasses a majority of students–could find fulfilling and educational work in classes that activated “manual” skills–and they would thus be prepared for satisfying work in those trades after obtaining a diploma as well.

    These days, as is abundantly clear from my own experience in a thoroughly working-class Appalachian town, most students write off the whole high-school experience as an irrelevant waste of time (and an achievement that is, perhaps truly, beyond their competence) and resort instead to alcohol, drugs, and, in general, aimlessness and shiftlessness. This applies just as much to white students as to black (and other minority) students, by the way. Obviously, these decisions typically result in chronic unemployment and the like later in life. There is literally no point in most of these students attending high school to study Shakespeare or Spanish (much as I like both subjects), and public education turns out to be a huge broken promise for them. And just try having a successful career, as did both my grandfathers, with nothing more than an eight grade education.

  • DonS

    Cincinnatus @ 13:

    Agreed 100%!

    I posted the same thing a few days ago:

    http://www.geneveith.com/2012/01/13/college-majors-unemployment/#comment-138051

    We have enabled the higher education industry to increase its pricing at 5 times the general CPI over the past 30 years, by skyrocketing demand with this mindset that everyone should go to college and the government should fund it, whether they belong there or not. In the meantime, our trades education is an underfunded shambles. The complaint that students are just passed along in school is largely a function of the fact that schools have no way to re-direct students whose talents lie in non-academic areas.

    These national and statewide assessment tests, which focus only on the academic, college-bound subjects, make things even worse.

  • DonS

    Cincinnatus @ 13:

    Agreed 100%!

    I posted the same thing a few days ago:

    http://www.geneveith.com/2012/01/13/college-majors-unemployment/#comment-138051

    We have enabled the higher education industry to increase its pricing at 5 times the general CPI over the past 30 years, by skyrocketing demand with this mindset that everyone should go to college and the government should fund it, whether they belong there or not. In the meantime, our trades education is an underfunded shambles. The complaint that students are just passed along in school is largely a function of the fact that schools have no way to re-direct students whose talents lie in non-academic areas.

    These national and statewide assessment tests, which focus only on the academic, college-bound subjects, make things even worse.

  • Phillip

    First off, I’m in favor of vocational programs in high school, but I’m not going to address education as a whole here.

    As a 2009 OK high school grad, I can assure you, the tests are very basic. (I got 100% on some of them and no less than 97% or somewhere thereabouts on any of them, so I’m not your typical high school student, but I assure you they are easy even for “average” students.) If you fail your quadratic equations, you can still pass the algebra tests. Unfortunately the tests are given by state law in April, which places them about six weeks, sometimes more, before the end of school, which makes them not really end of instruction tests. However, at least when I took them, they actually did test over the pass objectives. The tests certainly aren’t perfect, but if students are failing them repeatedly, there is definitely cause to investigate why. I’m all for local control of schools, but these tests do cover the basic requirements set by the state of Oklahoma for a high school diploma. Besides which, students are grandfathered in, so if there is a new test added, you don’t have to take it if you’re already in high school. The “contract” students have with the school requires these tests in addition to classes.

    But much more importantly, why does Mr. Cole exclude reading, writing, and history from the list of things we need to teach. Does he think students will learn science if they can’t read their textbooks? Or get a job or into college if they can’t write an application?

  • Phillip

    First off, I’m in favor of vocational programs in high school, but I’m not going to address education as a whole here.

    As a 2009 OK high school grad, I can assure you, the tests are very basic. (I got 100% on some of them and no less than 97% or somewhere thereabouts on any of them, so I’m not your typical high school student, but I assure you they are easy even for “average” students.) If you fail your quadratic equations, you can still pass the algebra tests. Unfortunately the tests are given by state law in April, which places them about six weeks, sometimes more, before the end of school, which makes them not really end of instruction tests. However, at least when I took them, they actually did test over the pass objectives. The tests certainly aren’t perfect, but if students are failing them repeatedly, there is definitely cause to investigate why. I’m all for local control of schools, but these tests do cover the basic requirements set by the state of Oklahoma for a high school diploma. Besides which, students are grandfathered in, so if there is a new test added, you don’t have to take it if you’re already in high school. The “contract” students have with the school requires these tests in addition to classes.

    But much more importantly, why does Mr. Cole exclude reading, writing, and history from the list of things we need to teach. Does he think students will learn science if they can’t read their textbooks? Or get a job or into college if they can’t write an application?

  • –helen

    When I went to high school, (yeah, in the Dark Ages) Minnesota had “state board exams” in every high school subject. We spent the last six weeks in the spring reviewing test questions from previous exams. And then we passed the test. (I don’t remember that anyone didn’t.)
    But we also had shop classes the boys were more interested in, and home economics (which we girls learned better from our mothers).

    Less than 1/3 of the girls went to college but all the boys went to the armed services and some got quite a good education for post service life, from driving big rigs for the lumber companies to flying private jets for corporations. And yes, some went back to the farm.

  • –helen

    When I went to high school, (yeah, in the Dark Ages) Minnesota had “state board exams” in every high school subject. We spent the last six weeks in the spring reviewing test questions from previous exams. And then we passed the test. (I don’t remember that anyone didn’t.)
    But we also had shop classes the boys were more interested in, and home economics (which we girls learned better from our mothers).

    Less than 1/3 of the girls went to college but all the boys went to the armed services and some got quite a good education for post service life, from driving big rigs for the lumber companies to flying private jets for corporations. And yes, some went back to the farm.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “but I assure you they are easy even for “average” students.”

    Yes, the threshold for passing is actually below the average. But there is a huge fraction of students who are far below average. I mean, how far below average do you consider someone who scores at the 30th %ile, or the 10th or the 5th %ile?
    Well? Anyway, by definition 6, 2, or 1 in 20 (respectively) are that low. So, you can get any passing percentage you want based on the questions you ask. And what are we going to do for those people who cannot pass those tests? They aren’t going to evaporate. They need help to get employment. They definitely aren’t all going to do a great job figuring it out for themselves.

    I know it is hard for smart folks to imagine this because those tests seem so easy, but they aren’t easy for everyone.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “but I assure you they are easy even for “average” students.”

    Yes, the threshold for passing is actually below the average. But there is a huge fraction of students who are far below average. I mean, how far below average do you consider someone who scores at the 30th %ile, or the 10th or the 5th %ile?
    Well? Anyway, by definition 6, 2, or 1 in 20 (respectively) are that low. So, you can get any passing percentage you want based on the questions you ask. And what are we going to do for those people who cannot pass those tests? They aren’t going to evaporate. They need help to get employment. They definitely aren’t all going to do a great job figuring it out for themselves.

    I know it is hard for smart folks to imagine this because those tests seem so easy, but they aren’t easy for everyone.


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