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NCLB Outrages

Testing's 'collateral damage'

by John Young

It shouldn’t take a Ph.D like David Berliner to
tell us what’s wrong with the way we do
accountability in schools. He sees parallels in
baseball, too, and he’s no Joe Dimaggio.

Sporting analogy: When you put too much
emphasis on home runs, he points out, people
strike out more.

When you put too much emphasis on anything at
the exclusion of other things, players adjust
in ways that make them one- dimensional.

Berliner isn’t an expert on baseball. A
regents’ professor at Arizona State University,
he is an expert on education. With University
of Texas-San Antonio professor Sharon Nichols
he’s authored Collateral Damage: How High-
Stakes Testing Corrupts American Education.

Berliner spoke at Baylor University last week,
his theme being how high-stakes testing makes
America less competitive.

“Any time you invest a lot of value in an
outcome measure you get a corruption of the
measure,” said Berliner, in a true
academician’s phrasing.

Texas being a proving ground for high-stakes
testing and the federal No Child Left Behind
law, it’s notable that its schools have become
poster children for “gaming the system to lie,”
said Berliner.

This includes not just outright cheating, but
any number of maneuvers to make sure low-
achievers aren’t tested.

Beyond that is the problem of “narrowing the
curriculum” to meet the task of passing a test
on core subjects.

In Texas and across the country we’ve seen
schools with low math scores become slaves to
computation at the exclusion of everything

“If you are going to gauge a school based on a
test, then you’re going to prepare kids for the
test,” he said. Yeah, we need a Ph.D. to tell
us this. Even Berliner sees the absurdity

“What you get is really boring curriculum
heavily favoring reading and math, and a drop
in [emphasis of] almost everything else” —
recess, math, music, arts, social studies,

Berliner said this problem is most pronounced
in inner-city schools with more than their
share of poverty cases, and with low-low test
scores. For many students in those situations,
education is drained of its Technicolor in
favor of dry work sheets and test-based drills.

Once again, it shouldn’t take a Ph.D. to tell
us this, but:

“Anyone who looks at the future of the American
workforce knows it needs to be more adaptable
than it is today. We’re developing a curriculum
that’s very narrow, a one-size-fits all

“Instead, we need a broad approach, one that’s
wide so we have lots people who can adjust
quickly when [economic] shifts happen.”

Success demands that schools emphasize such
traits as creativity, collaboration and
problem-solving, he said.

Cancer of boredom

Back to Berliner’s warning about a too-boring
curriculum. Some traditionalists would consider
that a weak complaint of the “touchy-feely”
crowd that doesn’t want to crack the whip.

Well, Berliner cites a study in which 47
percent of those who dropped out cited boredom
as the reason. It wasn’t that they couldn’t do
the work. It was that they didn’t see any

I know that the martial-law crowd can’t
understand this, but: You know, schools ought
to give children a reason to want to learn —
other than passing a test.

It doesn’t take a graduate degree to see that
we need to stop examining our measuring cups
and examine what we’re putting in them. One
idea would be to treat teachers as educators
and not as vessels.

What you emphasize you’ll get, or at least
lunging efforts at it. In the age of test-
driven “accountability,” we are getting
training and conditioning, but not education.

— John Young
Waco Tribune


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