Monday, May 15, 2006

Teach to the Test, Please!

If you're a homeschooler who thinks No Child Left Behind and standardized testing doesn't affect you, think again. This post is a little long but explains why testing matters to you.

Recently, the ACT issued a report Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?" Quoting from the press release
"This landmark report makes it clear that we must ensure high school is relevant and rigorous for all students," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, chair of the national Governors Association Education, Early Childhood, and Workforce Committee. "We need to bring accountability and focus to our classrooms in order to prepare graduates for the fiercely competitive global economy, whether their next step is college or a career."
Rigor with relevance are the new buzz words in education and the reform that is pushing toward consistent standards in all 50 states. It should also be no surprise that the ACT commissioned this report. Or that they are actively endorsing uniform standards and testing. They have a lot to gain with uniform testing.

Last week in my post, Wise Investments? I focused on how career tracking and universal preschool are two mechanisms that are being used to further the state's economic goals at the expense of children. There is another component that the government is "investing" in as well. Testing and high school exit exams. Standardized testing is closely tied in with career tracking and managing the economy.

Right now California is in a court battle for their high school exit exam.

We are also hearing about problems with the SAT test.

Despite these negative reports, there is one test that is gaining a lot of positive press, the ACT. They are positioning themselves to be the "test of choice" in education. Several states are considering or have already adopted this test as their state high school exit exam. Kentucky is the latest. The Blue Grass Institute defends this decision,

By approving legislation requiring all 11th-graders to take the proven ACT assessments, the 2006 General Assembly took an important step toward reducing Kentucky's undue reliance on the inadequate Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS).

The new law additionally adds high-quality testing for eighth-graders and high-school sophomores. The results of these new, nationally normed tests will provide earlier identification of areas where students need assistance - and identify the educational opportunities needed to close those gaps - to prepare for their dream career or college opportunity.

The article also highlights Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan as states that have adopted the ACT as their state exam. To twist an old cliche, "this is not your father's ACT". It is paid for by the state and has changed dramatically. They have added a work skills component all with the goal of job readiness. Quoting again from the Blue Grass Institute
Students planning to immediately enter the workforce after graduation will also take ACT's Work Keys assessment, a business skills-oriented test that many employers require. High scorers will receive a Kentucky Employability Certificate from the state's Cabinet for Workforce Development, giving them a competitive advantage for better jobs. (emphasis added)
As more and more states adopt the same test, such as the ACT, to replace their state exams, we could end up with a de facto national exam. (By the way, having the SAT lose credibility greatly helps this effort.) It will be interesting to watch how California resolves their testing situation.

This is all a back door way of regulating not just curriculum but the economy as well. Employers and colleges will require an "Employability Certificate" (CIM) in the same way they look for a high school diploma. Here's how Oregon described the certificate (CIM) from their Dept. of Ed. website
When you apply to attend a college or university, to get a job, to join the military, or to do volunteer work, the CIM can help you prove why you should be admitted, hired, or allowed to join. It shows you did more than just attend school, take classes, and graduate with a GPA. It shows you worked hard to achieve high standards - standards that people respect in the world beyond high school.
Testing and certification have implications for our society as a whole. Those who homeschool will be affected by the educational structure that is required for a managed economy. Standardized testing is the oil that makes the engine of this type of economy run. The state needs compulsory schooling and testing to ensure that all children are taught what they need to know to be a good citizen in the global economy managed by the state. Those without the certification will be at a competitive disadvantage. And the only way to be certified is by taking the test.

If all of this sounds a bit far fetched and conspiratorial then let me remind you again of the words of Governor Jennifer Granholm from my state of Michigan. She said this in her state of the state address this year.
Now, when it comes to education, we will have one overarching goal: to become the best-educated workforce in the nation. To do that, we will give our children the tools they need to be successful in the classroom and in the 21st century economy.
The whole purpose of education from the state's perspective is to do well on a test, to get a good job, to compete in the global economy. A uniform standard and test will move us toward the goal of a state managed workforce. That's why Florida will require middle and high school students to declare a career major.

So is it any wonder that Richard Ferguson, President of the ACT recently said,
"Teach to the test, please."
No thank you, Mr. Ferguson. My children are not a commodity in the state's workforce. It's none of the state's business what my childre want to be when they grow up. And teaching to your test is not why we educate our children.

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