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Posted at 4:49 PM ET, 06/29/2010

Why Jay Mathews is wrong about Rhee and standardized testing

By Valerie Strauss

My colleague Jay Mathews, in this post on his Class Struggle blog, praises D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee for planning to subject children in the city’s public schools to more standardized testing.

As our colleague Bill Turque wrote in this article, Rhee wants to test kids on, among other subjects, science and social science, particularly in middle and high school.

Jay’s argument in support of Rhee is that neighboring school districts with fine reputations, namely Montgomery County in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia, have many more required tests in core subjects for high schoolers than D.C. schools do.

The headline of his post even says: “If more D.C. testing is bad, why are Va., Md. schools so popular?” And he says about Rhee’s plan to add more tests: “If this works in the burbs, why shouldn’t she?”

Well, if in fact it did work in the ’burbs, it might be worth considering in the District.

But Fairfax and Montgomery counties don’t rest their academic reputations on their standardized testing regimes. Fine teachers and administrators and committed parents probably have something to do it.

Let's be clear: Not all Fairfax or Montgomery schools do equally well. Those in the wealthier parts of the counties generally do much better than schools in the poorer areas. That is consistent with what research has long shown to be true: Family income is one of the most highly predictive measures of how well a student will do in school.

Fairfax tests all of its students under the state’s Standards of Learning assessment system, which all other counties in Virginia also use. Why then don’t all Virginia school systems do as well as Fairfax?

Besides, high-stakes standardized testing has characterized the modern reform movement in the No Child Left Behind era, and even some of its most ardent opponents have realized that it was a big mistake. More testing hardly seems like the answer.

Jay, in his post, also makes the following argument:

“I understand the impatience that many people have with testing in schools. In some places, there is too much. But testing has been a part of the learning process since schools began. It helps students review and helps teachers see where the learning gaps are.”

Well, those of us who oppose the high-stakes standardized testing that characterizes the modern school reform movement don't dislike testing per se.

We are opposed to mindlessly drilling kids so they can do well on standardized tests, and then using scores on single tests to make important decisions about kids and teachers. Of course in-class testing helps teachers know where their students are in terms of understanding material (though there are other ways teachers can ascertain the same thing.) That kind of testing is far different from standardized tests.

Giving more standardized tests to kids who are already heavily tested isn’t going to help them improve. But Jay can think so if he wants to.

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 29, 2010; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  class struggle and jay, class struggle and jay mathews, d.c. schools, d.c. schools and michelle rhee, d.c. tests, fairfax county schools, jay mathews, michelle rhee, montgomery county schools, rhee and schools, rhee and tests, standardized tests, standards of learning and virginia  
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Comments

Thank goodness some one gets it. "If we test them, they will learn" is silly and it doesn't work. On the other hand, it sure does make a lot of money for test-making companies.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | June 29, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The only thing Rhee will do by expanding testing is make the testing companies richer.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 29, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

This is what I love so much about Michelle Rhee. She always puts the needs of the testing companies above the needs of the children!

Posted by: aby1 | June 29, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, Jay is an interesting character. He's comfortable being "always" wrong. That's why I stopped reading his column.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 29, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Candycane - This is another rare case of you being wrong. You should read Mathews' columns just as you should read the wapo editorials - so that you'll know what the latest spin is.

Thanks, Valerie - what you say makes sense, as usual. Jay's column was incredibly shallow.

Are you guys playing good cop/bad cop?

Posted by: efavorite | June 29, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

56 percent of DC students failed the National tests for 2009 in 4th grade reading and there is this pretense that more standardized testing will improve education in DC.

It is hard to understand how more standardized tests in other areas are going to help. Is there any purpose in creating more tests requiring reading when the current tests indicate that so many students can not read?

Perhaps this idea will help the 8 or 9 percent of white students in DC that at this point have the highest scores in the nation on National tests, but Ms. Rhee was not brought in to deal with students who have no problem in education.

Where are the new ideas and programs of Ms. Rhee to deal with 56 percent failure rates in reading in the 4th grade?

Time for Ms. Rhee and Mr. Mathews to recognize that the methods of Ms. Rhee have not worked and Ms. Rhee should either come up with ideas geared to the problem or leave.
................................
And here is suggestion that actually makes sense for all the test nuts like Mr. Mathews. In fact I suggested this to Mr. Mathews 8 years ago.

Test all the children when enter the public school system in DC. This is done in Great Britain. In New York City they even test children for entering the kindergarten for special teaching programs.

Then when you have tests you can actually see the effect of teaching. Of course the teacher bashers and union busters do not like this idea since the tests when children enter the school system would actually show that there is a large difference in children when they enter the public school system.

Far better to keep up the pretense that there is no difference in children since bashing teachers is easier to do than actually setting up programs to deal with the problem. Let us admit it, Ms. Rhee would be viewed as a nothing in education since none of her ideas deals with the difference in children when they enter the public school system. As a teacher basher though Ms. Rhee is superman. To bad for her teacher bashing does nothing to solve the problem.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 29, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

"But Fairfax and Montgomery counties don’t rest their academic reputations on their standardized testing regimes. Fine teachers and administrators and committed parents probably have something to do it."
------------------
Montgomery County doesn't use test scores as the main vehicle for teacher evaluation either. They have a comprehensive evaluation system that looks at much more.

Posted by: musiclady | June 29, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

“If more D.C. testing is bad, why are Va., Md. schools so popular?
Jay Mathews
....................................
Virginia and Maryland schools are popular because these two states have almost the highest scores in the nation on the 2009 National tests for Reading which shows that they know what they are doing in public education.

Jay Mathews is as bad as the politicians.

There was an article recently of highly ranked school being placed on the list of schools that needs reform by the Department of Education. Meanwhile it appears the Department of Education sees no problem in DC where almost every Title 1 public school should be on the list of schools that need reform. 56 percent failure in 4th grade reading for DC and the Department of Education is worried about a high school in Virginia that sends more than 80 percent of the graduates to college.

"Alexandria's T.C. Williams High hustles to get off urgent-reform list"

Before we had the Republicans destroying public education in this country, and now we have the Democrats following suit.

The politicians of both parties say that the nation needs more dedicated teachers yet make the environment totally hostile for teachers. Yes spend perhaps $100,000 for a career in teaching to enter a field where you are told you are overpaid and lazy for not educating children that have a difficulty in learning.

This a crazy country.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 29, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Family income is one of the most highly predictive measures of how well a student will do in school.
...........................
According to Jay Mathews, Ms. Rhee, President Bush, President Obama, and the current Secretary of Education this is incorrect.

All of the above believe that how well a student does in school is totally dependent upon teachers and the union of teachers. That is why teachers have to be bashed and unions busted because they are responsible for the poor performance of students in Title 1 poverty public schools. The teachers and unions have to be stopped from preventing the education of children in Title 1 poverty schools.

Of course Jay Mathews, Ms. Rhee, President Bush, President Obama, and the current Secretary of Education and the rest of Americans who believe in bashing teachers and busting up unions have never explained why middle class schools are doing well with teachers that are members of unions.

Maybe it is the fluoridation of the water after all.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 29, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Valerie,

At a professional development day, the leader asked us "How often do you assess student learning?" She went on to emphasize that teachers need to assess student learning often during a class period. Often teachers get a good idea of who "gets" the material using an exit card, white board clicker, thumbs up or thumbs down. A teacher can also walk around during group projects, independent work see who is on task and if they understand material. A teacher can spot check student work or check all of it.

Rehashing standardized test data again and again takes away from time to actually check student papers and give useful feedback to the kids.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 29, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

There's no physics SOL test in Virginia. That's NOT a good thing. Students, upon learning that they won't be taking any SOL test at the end of the year just say "yay!" and shift their brains into neutral.

I've spoken to other science teachers about whether the presence of an SOL test (and in their fields there is one, unlike physics) lights a fire under the butts of their students. They all seem to think it does, even though SOL tests add some stress to teachers' lives.

I graduated from high school 30 years ago in NY and I had take various Regents examinations (harder than the SOL), including physics, and I'm very glad I did. Having to prepare for such examinations taught me a great deal, and knowing that I did well among the thousands who took the same examination, under the same conditions, means more to me (and should have to colleges as well) than the completely subjective evaluations of various individual teachers.

There are various claims made by teachers that they know what students know and standardized tests are unnecessary. Bull. The standardized test isn't for the teacher but those who will need that data in the future. In addition, I've seen teachers who claim that their students have learned something when they haven't learned anything of the sort.

For the IB class I taught a very essential skill is graphing. That means taking data, and not only graphing it, but linearizing it and obtaining a mathematical relationship among its variables. Even the smartest kids in school, given graph paper and pencil, can't do this coming into a hs class. We thought that the middle schools don't bother to teach graphing, yet during an inservice with the middle school teachers they were swearing up and down that graphing is incorporated into everything that these kids do.

This is why we need common yardsticks of academic achievement just as we need common measurement in other walks of life. It would be absurd if there was no common way for doctors to measure blood pressure, and we simply relied on an individual doctor say so that a person's blood pressure was ok, or not.

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 29, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse


Jay,

You are wrong.

Valerie is right.

Posted by: rsolnet | June 29, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

There really is confusion in this country about education and learning.

physicsteacher writes about the Regents in New York State taken 30 years ago.

I took the Regents 50 years ago and there was no such thing as classroom preparation for these exams.

The idea then was that the standardized test reflected what the student learned in the classroom and not classroom preparation for taking the test.

We are in a strange world where you take a test that really reflects preparation in the classroom for the test instead of what a student has learned. In education there should be no classroom preparation for standardized tests. Preparation for a standardized test makes as much sense as preparation for a class quiz.

Standardized tests are not part of the learning process. They are simply the measuring of learning.

New York State still has multiple Regent exams for a wide range of subjects. The presence of these standardized tests has not helped in any way with the problems of educating children in Title 1 poverty public schools in New York State.

An interesting story regarding education in New York concerns Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, NY. This Title 1 poverty school was plagued with violence and under performance. A black principal was brought in and separated and in cases forced out students that were disruptive to education. This significantly improved the school with large numbers of students going to college. That principal retired and the City of New York stopped the practice of separating and forcing out the students who were holding down the entire school. Today Boys and Girls High School is on the list of New York City schools that require drastic reform because of poor performance.

Standardized testing does not improve public schools in poverty areas. The only thing that will change education in Title 1 poverty public schools is the recognition that every child is different that enters public schools and that there has be separate placement for those children that will not allow other children to obtain the benefits of education.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 29, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

The President of the United States holds a cabinet meeting. Two or three of those present at the meeting are disruptive to the meeting. The President is upset that a few individuals are disrupting entirely the process of governing the nation and wants to get rid of the disruptive individuals.

The Secretary of the Education objects and claims that the problem is that the President lacks skill in cabinet meeting management.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 30, 2010 12:12 AM | Report abuse

With all of the rampant propulsion of testing mania along with the absurb reasoning put forth in order to justify the mess, kinda makes ya think that we have entered....The Twilight Zone.

Posted by: shadwell1 | June 30, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Standardized testing does not improve public schools in poverty areas. The only thing that will change education in Title 1 poverty public schools is the recognition that every child is different that enters public schools and that there has be separate placement for those children that will not allow other children to obtain the benefits of education.
_____________________

This is the single greatest lesson that special education has to offer to the rest of the education world: each child has different abilities, disabilities, and accordingly they must be addressed.

It is an incredible irony that the U.S., generally preoccupied with individual freedoms, is so obsessed that our children march in lockstep, prisoners of one vision.

Of course it is expensive to individualize education; but if we do not address the radical differences amongst our students, then we are guaranteeing an increase in the prison population, mental illness, and generally disenchanted citizens with little investment in their society.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | June 30, 2010 12:48 AM | Report abuse

Valerie,
I disagree with you and the majority of your posters who think the tests are a bad idea.
Tests are a tool. Period. They should let educators know where students are strong and where they need help. They should let educators know which things those educators are doing well and not so well.
The problem lies not in the tests. Tests are one way of checking for understanding- something teachers do frequently. Tests do not take time away from learning but help direct it. The problems lie in misusing the results of tests or constructing poor tests.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | June 30, 2010 3:40 AM | Report abuse

Given the large proportion of Americans who think that Obama, born in the state of Hawaii, wasn't born in the U.S. or the numbers who think that immigration policy should be controlled by states I think that teaching/testing future citizens in social studies might be a good idea!

I'm sure a devote follower of science could highlight other basic knowledge that high school graduates should, but don't know.

It would be nice if students were taught things that aren't on tests but that doesn't seem to be the case. Since I feel like many students are missing critical knowledge about our country I have to think that some testing in these areas is worthhwhile.

Posted by: RedBird27 | June 30, 2010 6:15 AM | Report abuse

Valerie -
There's an old adage that fits here - "Doesn't matter how many times you weigh a pig - if you don't feed him he won't get any heavier." We've been burying schools with minimum competency tests since the late seventies and it really ought to be clear by now (it certainly is in the research lit) the only thing we've managed to do is narrow curriculum and depress learning (not to be confused with "achievement").

Posted by: jerryeads | June 30, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Excellent, Bsallamack: "The President of the United States holds a cabinet meeting. Two or three of those present at the meeting are disruptive to the meeting. The President is upset that a few individuals are disrupting entirely the process of governing the nation and wants to get rid of the disruptive individuals.

The Secretary of the Education objects and claims that the problem is that the President lacks skill in cabinet meeting management."
----

Please pass this directly to the President and Ed Sec - Maybe they'll get it it's brought down to their level.

Put it in handwriting and send it by snail mail - I hear it will increase your chances of it getting read because Obama takes those personalized missives more seriously.

Posted by: efavorite | June 30, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large wrote: It is an incredible irony that the U.S., generally preoccupied with individual freedoms, is so obsessed that our children march in lockstep, prisoners of one vision.
________________________________
This is the reason why so many kids fail or hate school. Sadly some of the brightest kids fall into those groups. I also believe it is one reason why ADHD has become more prevalent. Many of those kids, when taught appropriately seem to have no disorder at all. Funny how drill and kill routines will bring the hyperactivity out in a kid. We are really wasting a lot of really creative minds. Those are the kids who will ultimately drop out.

Posted by: musiclady | June 30, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

"The only thing Rhee will do by expanding testing is make the testing companies richer.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 29, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

This is what I love so much about Michelle Rhee. She always puts the needs of the testing companies above the needs of the children!

Posted by: aby1"

Two comments that perfectly sum up the Rhee/TFA/Hiatt/armao/Matthews view of education: It's all about diverting time and money from education to private companies to administer worthless tests, to recruit ineffective teachers and to run schools at inflated prices with negaztive results. The important thing is to divert taxpayer money to private business.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 30, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

It's time to investigate the connections between test score companies and Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 30, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I think subject area tests are fine. I agree with the poster above who says tests are a tool.

Standardized tests designed to measure reading and math competencies are being given too much importance. Some kids are not allowed to take electives until their scores on the standardized tests are higher.

Subject ares exams are good at the high chool level, but are not so great for elementary students.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Here is a thought for your column.

NYC is revamping their prekindergarten tests for their gifted program.

The city is using the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which judges early childhood knowledge like shapes and colors. It is not a gifted measure, but rather a measure of school readiness, as its name indicates.

The city uses the equivalent of 120 I.Q., or the 90th national percentile as the cut-off scores for gifted programs.

Apparently in our democratic society everyone will agree it is fair and best for education of gifted children to separate children before they enter public school based upon scoring the equivalent of 120 I.Q. on a test.

Why would it be so wrong to use a test on all children entering public schools and separating them into classes based on this test? Is it really fair or best for education in NYC to haphazardly place children into classrooms when tests are available for children? Is it not obvious that it is not helpful to education to place children that score the equivalent of 119 I.Q. in classes with children that score the equivalent of 75 I.Q.?

Like most large cities that are plagued with the problems of Title 1 poverty public schools, NYC has enough resources to separate children based upon test results in class rooms where children will have the best chance of obtaining the most from education.

Is it not time for this country in urban areas to stops looking for quick fixes and simply start placing children in class rooms based upon their capabilities and not haphazard chance.

New York Times
New Gifted Testing in New York May Begin at Age 3

Posted by: bsallamack | June 30, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Once again Michelle Rhee is correct. The best public school system in the country, Massachusetts, just added an MCAS science test to its high school graduation requirement with one for social studies two to three years out.

People will finally be able to stop complaining it's only math and reading/language arts that are being emphasized in our public schools. The addition of these two other disciplines merely indicates their importance in a well rounded public education.

You go girl!

Posted by: phoss1 | June 30, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and I almost forgot. Jay is very perceptive to support Rhee on this move.

Posted by: phoss1 | June 30, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

phoss1

I haven't heard anyone complaining about the high school tests. It is the over-testing at the elementary school level that is considered detrimental to learning. by over testing I mean too many standardized tests.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 30, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

"prisoners of one vision."

As a physics teacher I would never have presumed to tell art teachers how to teach art, or poetry teachers how to teach poetry, or drama teachers how to teach drama, etc. I would have appreciated the same.

The teaching world is top-heavy with art and lit teachers and it is they who create rules that adversely affect STEM teaching. And it is STEM subjects in which Americans fall behind.

Art is about human beings and about individual expression. It it is inherently "all about me". Science, especially the physical sciences like physics and chemistry, are SOOOooo "not about me". Science, whether applied or pure is EXACTLY ABOUT ONE VISION, aka REALITY. Why is it that you can drive across a bridge and get to the other side? Because all the builders of that bridge shared a single vision embodied in something called "the blueprints". Yes, ONE SIZE DOES FIT ALL.

One can be a creative artist without knowing much about art history, theory, or what other artists are doing. Being creative in something like organic chemistry involves understanding knowledge that took many lifetimes to discover. The artists in education all seem to think if we get kids to be "creative" but ignorant they'll all go out and do creative and wonderful things. I had an argument with a teacher who insisted that there is no standardization in engineering. The woman prepared her students for a world that exists only in her mind.

When someone proposes a standardized test with questions like "what's your favorite color" and the right answer is "blue", you can speak out and I'll be in your corner. But don't tell me that standardized tests in physical science are unjustified based upon your artistic experiences and sensibilities.

I have nothing against artist; they bring a great deal of beauty into the world. But their ideas shouldn't be shoehorned into all subjects of education. But they are.

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 30, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

And another art person speaks out:

"This is the reason why so many kids fail or hate school."

If your kid's attention span has been killed by the drillin' then it's likely he/she is not a science person and never will be, just as I am not a poetry person, and never will be. Reworking the class just to make him/her "calm" won't teach anyone anything, including your kid.

In a typical HS today you'll see countless arts and crafts projects that masquerade as science, history, math and everything else. If you observe kids working on these projects you'll see calm engagement, but where is the content?

In my former HS where I taught there's a display case with "science projects", or models of molecules creative decorated with pretty colors. Does this sound like a good use of time just to satisfy people whose kids don't like doing math problems or balancing chemical equations and apparently get ADHD?

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 30, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

It is amazing to us how many kids do well on standardized tests and cannot understand what they read

Let's focus on measuring learning gains, get away from this pass fail mania and help kids read and succeed

Posted by: 3dlearner | June 30, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

"t is amazing to us how many kids do well on standardized tests and cannot understand what they read"

This suggests that we need better tests and not that we need to get rid of them.

"Let's focus on measuring learning gains, get away from this pass fail mania and help kids read and succeed"

How on earth are we supposed to measure anything without a common yardstick, which is precisely what a standardized test is?

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 30, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

@physicsteacher:

Art is about human beings and about individual expression. It it is inherently "all about me".
_______________________________

Actually,the teaching of Art, if done well, includes an array of other disciplines that have their own set of standards, i.e.:

- Color theory, both pigment & light - Physics

- Shape & proportion - Geometric vs.
organic

- Perceptual awareness & hand-eye coor-
dination via many, many studies in
different media - development of
technical skills

- understanding of form & function that
can lead to careers in architecture,
Medical illustration, Technical illustration, textbook illustration (MAY include physics), interior design (MAY include science buildings & future space
ships), fashion design,graphic design,etc.

- Political awarenes; use of art to
clarify social concerns through
various means such as media,posters,
political cartoons, etc.

- understanding of film and photography
communications


The above is a short list of many, many other areas in which Art is not only a participant, but a valuable contributor.

Truth & Beauty, Art for Art's Sake and
Self-Expression, the Spiritual aspects - will remain, in my opinion, to be the soul of Art; but most accomplished artists do not make the most of their Art without at least some of the disciplines described above.

Also, I would never presume to tell you how to teach Physics; I understand that it is a very different kind of subject matter in the schools and needs to be assessed accordingly.


Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | June 30, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

If your kid's attention span has been killed by the drillin' then it's likely he/she is not a science person and never will be,
Posted by: physicsteacher
......................................
Imagine this teacher as the teacher of Einstein in the first physics class that Einstein took, or this teacher of the first class that Euler took in mathematics.

Any adult would be bored out of their mind being a student where a parrot teacher simply kept repeating or "drilling" the same thing over and over again.

I always thought that those that were interested in science were interested in learning new things. But now I learn that those that are interested in physics are interested in hearing the same thing over and over again. Perhaps this physics teachers believes that his teaching methods are suited to create physicists that have the patience to watch radium turn into lead.

Perhaps Galileo had a teacher like this always drilling down "the world is flat".

Posted by: bsallamack | June 30, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

The reason various reading tests haven't led to anything positive is because reading ability is tied to general knowledge and not to various reading strategies which is precisely what various test preps embrace. The problem is not "teaching to the test" but teaching the wrong thing entirely. Once again the screw up here is the education school which is filled to the brim with people who know the least about learning. Take an education course in "Literacy" and you'll see it's nothing but strategies and graphic organizers.

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 30, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

"Also, I would never presume to tell you how to teach Physics; I understand that it is a very different kind of subject matter in the schools and needs to be assessed accordingly"

You personally may not have, but I have had artsy-type teachers and supervisors and ed school professors telling me about all the various strategies I should be using, all of which are useless for my content area. The ed schools charged me a fortune for this useless crap and my supervisor held it like a knife over my livelyhood and future. Every new idea forced on science teachers almost always comes from someone who sucked at it.

And while you may have a sophisticated understanding of art the presence of all the arts and crafts in schools these days suggests you're quite alone.

The fact that the US performance in math and science is so mediocre suggest we need some new leadership.

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 30, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

"parrot teacher"

Aren't we smart. For your information, most students I've had barely had the tools to BEGIN studying physics and a great deal of "repetition", as you put it, was required to get them ready.

I've already mentioned one thing, the graphing. This took many rounds -- over a two year span in the case IB students -- before they could take a data set, linearize it, and extract the mathematical relationship properly. Many students asked for MORE practice problems, with step-by-step solutions, so they could become proficient with the techniques. I would spend MANY hours, detailing such problems, often with diagrams (drawn to scale so as not give students incorrect notions of scale), and place these in electronic form so students could access these online at will. I was actually unable to keep up with the demand and the materials I had were either insufficient in quantity or in detail.

Another aspect in which students were unprepared was in the use of units for quantities. Much of this was due to simple inertia because these students had spent their lives simply extracting naked numbers from the page and plugging them into calculators. It took much "repetition", and many wrong answers, for them to focus on the symbol after the number and to take it into account.

BTW, my former students who are now in service academies or studying engineering at universities have informed me that the "repetition" that you so smugly disparage has helped them tremendously in their physics and chemistry classes and that feel well prepared because of it.

As for your utterly stupid comment that you thought physics was about learning new things, why don't you try applying that thought to instrumental music. Is music just about making sounds? Then why do budding musicians play the same phrase repeatedly until it becomes second nature? Why do young guitarists practice until their fingertips hurt? And what happens to those who don't have the patience or perseverance to play the same thing over and over until it hurts? They don't become musicians

Likewise, those find dealing with units too boring or too frustrating aren't going to learn much beyond middle school physical science.

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 30, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews opinions are absolutely worthless to me. I don't bother to read his articles or blogs. When is the last time he worked in a classroom? Try substituting in a DC classroom, Jay!

Posted by: lacy4 | July 1, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

physicsteacher

You should read your own post.

You are the one who said that:
If your kid's attention span has been killed by the drillin' then it's likely he/she is not a science person and never will be...

The attention span of any adult would be killed by constant repetition of what is already known and understood.

As a teacher you have seemed to lost the understanding that many of the students that are turned off are the students that have abilities and that have been placed haphazardly in classes based upon a poor educational system that does place children into class rooms based upon their intelligence and their ability to learn.

Your school does not separate children based upon ability but simply uses a haphazard method for placement. Supposedly there are tons of standardized tests yet the results of these tests are never used to determine the teachers or classes of these children.

Children that in the fifth grade that score in a standardized reading test on a college level are placed in class rooms with children that can not even read on a fourth grade level.

Yes there are limited gifted program, but if students can be placed into classes based upon being gifted than students can be placed in classes based upon their ability.

You mention the amount of time that you have spent on repeating the same thing for students but totally ignore the students that do not need this constant repetition.

We have lost the idea that the function of the teacher is to teach. The objective is for students to learn. Not every child will learn and certainly many children will not learn in a system that is totally geared towards to the children that can not learn. Continuous repetition is a system that is totally geared towards the children that can not learn and has created the situation where many children that could learn are turned off from learning.

One tires of any school administrator, politicians, or teacher that believes in constant repetition for education.

Children will not learn mathematics by simply repeating 2+2 over and over. Considering that this is the method of teaching in the elementary schools of Title 1 poverty schools it is no surprise that so many children are turned off early on.

Constant repetition may work with dogs but it does not do very well with human beings.

As far as physics my experience is very limited. I took physics as an elective in high school in 1962 thinking it would be interesting since it was the time of electronics and nuclear science. At the start the class was going over foot pounds of pulleys from drawings in books to explain force. There were no experiments with lab equipment in regard to electric static charges or even magnets. Since it was an elective I quickly voted with my feet.

My experience is that a badly taught class is worse than no class at all since a badly taught class if sat through will quickly distinguish all interest in a subject.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 1, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

The reason various reading tests haven't led to anything positive is because reading ability is tied to general knowledge and not to various reading strategies which is precisely what various test preps embrace.
Posted by: physicsteacher
...................................
You really need to start to think about learning.

Of course reading tests have not led to anything for children who can not read. Even the "teach to the test" fanatics know that they can not simply duplicate the words that have been continuously repeated on the test.

Your comment that "reading is tied to general knowledge" makes no sense since the concept of general knowledge is rather meaningless.

Euler was creating new mathematical formulas as a child from watching his father adding up sums. If reading is tied to general knowledge than mathematics is tied to general knowledge. And if mathematics is tied up to general knowledge than all of the sciences are tied up to general knowledge. On this basis all we can say is that general knowledge is tied up with all learning and that the use of term general knowledge is meaningless.

Children learn to speak by hearing sounds and the recognition that there is a specific meaning associated with specific sounds. This provides awareness of words.

Children later learn that physical symbols can represent these words and the sound.

At one point the educators might start to think that the sounds that represent numbers and that have physical symbols are also words, and that for children that can read this should be used in teaching mathematics.

In truth the learning process begins far before any child enters schools.

You should start to think about this and your concepts of tests and their place in learning.

Please no more meaningless statements about general knowledge.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 1, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiP-ijdxqEc

http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2010/06/16/there%e2%80%99s-no-such-thing-as-a-reading-test/

Posted by: physicsteacher | July 1, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

"If reading is tied to general knowledge than mathematics is tied to general knowledge."

No, it's not. Mathematics theorems are derived from very small sets of axioms. Understanding WWII, in contrast, cannot be derived, proof by proof, theorem by theorem, from a set of facts a paragraph long.

"And if mathematics is tied up to general knowledge than all of the sciences are tied up to general knowledge."

And here you go trying to derive one falsehood from another. Apart from throwing around the names of famous mathemeticians you don't seem to be much of a mathematician yourself.

"On this basis all we can say is that general knowledge is tied up with all learning and that the use of term general knowledge is meaningless."

You seem to have helped me prove my point. I thank you. If you had just taken a reading test that just happened to be about mathematics your ignorance would have led you to the wrong answers.


Posted by: physicsteacher | July 1, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

for physicsteacher

http://people.should.be.able.to.communicate.their.ideas

http://websites.should.not.be.given.without.Anexpression.of.idea

http://website.that.proves.that.whatever.isOnAwebsite.is.not.correct

http://website.that.showsTheInherentFallacyofTheWebsite.website.that.proves.that.whatever.isOnAwebsite.is.not.correct

Probably the website you give is going to supposedly support your point about reading tests and states that reading is dependent upon culture and environment and so can not be fairly evaluated by a reading test.

A thinking person then would say that a reading test is simply composed of symbols where there is a general or agreed upon consensus on the meaning of these symbols. The thinking person would go further and say that if a reading test is invalid because the understanding of the symbols is dependent upon culture and environment than this criterion makes invalid any test that contains symbols.

Based upon this 2 is a symbol and should not be used on a math test or any other symbol for numbers or ideas. A picture of two toes would also be invalid since the recognition of a drawing or picture is dependent upon the culture or environment. Tests would also be invalid if questions and answers would be given orally since speech is dependent upon culture and environment.

Following this idea even further it would appear that a math test using physical objects would be unfair since even here we have problems where culture and environment may be claimed to enter. Some children may have never seen an orange and would be at a disadvantage in the concept that orange orange and orange orange are orange orange orange orange.

So it appears that all tests are invalid and should not be used in education. But this opposes your support for standardized testing.

I know that you mentioned that you are are not suited for poetry but I will leave with the lines of the bard.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, physicsteacher , Than are written on website or appear on youtube videos."

Posted by: bsallamack | July 1, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

You forgot one

http://bsallamack.postings.arent.sources.of.information

Posted by: physicsteacher | July 1, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack

The youtube video was courtesy of Dan Willingham, professor of Cognitive Science at UVA, and a frequent contributor to this column, among others. The next time he posts I trust you'll have the courage to confront him directly and offer your rebuttal to whatever he has to say on the grounds that it happens to be available online and is accessible via a URL.

The other posting is by E.D. Hirsch, an English literature professor, Yale graduate, and critic of education policy. Yet I'm sure that because his ideas are immortalized and disseminated on the internet they immediately lose all semblance of accuracy and relevance.

Euler must be quite happy that he's dead and that he's never googled. For had he lived today I'm sure that his work would be available on the internet and you'd be finding fault with it solely for that reason.

Posted by: physicsteacher | July 1, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

No, it's not. Mathematics theorems are derived from very small sets of axioms.
Posted by: physicsteacher
.........................
Brush up on your mathematics by readings in Modern Algebra and you will read of geometry based upon functions and not axioms.

By the way even in the systems of geometry based upon axioms there has been change on the number of axioms that are required for this system. I believe the count is four and not the five as previously thought. This is not new but I am sure that there are still standardized tests where the idea of parallel lines is accepted as an axiom of geometry even though this is no longer true.

Also start reading and find out that minus 1 multiplied by minus 1 is 1 because of convention and that many mathematicians recognized there is so mathematical proof of this convention.

Based upon the fact that mathematics contains conventions, then mathematics could be considered to be general knowledge.

The term general knowledge as you used it is meaningless since it is a pretense that general knowledge is something inferior. You really have a strange idea that individuals simply ignore their thoughts and impression of the world and create some "special knowledge" that is different and superior to "general knowledge".

You really should have tried when you were younger to develop a taste for poetry.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 1, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack

Are you actually going to offer up a serious rebuttal, or do I need to give the organ grinder more money? So far all you've been doing is jumping up down and gratifying yourself with both hands in public.

Posted by: physicsteacher | July 1, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

You forgot one

http://bsallamack.postings.arent.sources.of.information

Posted by: physicsteacher
...............................
You are quite wrong and quite right. I only post ideas, concepts, and my thoughts. I do post information.

Since I do not post information you are quite wrong. Since there are no postings of information there is no need for a website that indicates the non existent postings of information are incorrect. At the same time though you are quite right since my postings are not information and it would be valid for a web site that indicated that these postings are not information.

I think that you perhaps were thinking in terms of the following web site.
http://bsallamack.postings.of.ideas.concepts.thoughts.arenot.correct

To be quite candid I do not think much of someone who simply posts references to web sites instead of articulating the thought,concept, or idea that they want to convey. If the person is not capable of articulating ideas, the person is probably not capable to know or judge web sites that are of interest or valid. This is equivalent to a person, that you do not know, telling you that xxx is a great movie but not telling you why or what the movie is about.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 1, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack

Are you actually going to offer up a serious rebuttal, or do I need to give the organ grinder more money? So far all you've been doing is jumping up down and gratifying yourself with both hands in public.

Posted by: physicsteacher
...............................
Since I have not seen any expostulation of concepts, ideas, or thought, any further comments would serve no purpose.

I can fully understand that anyone who has a total lack of knowledge of current thoughts in mathematics needs to get onto the level of organ grinders.

I clearly agree that your methods of constant repetition in your classroom was appropriate. Attempting to explain ideas to students who do not understand these ideas requires creativity and thought, and for a teacher that is lacking in creativity and thought the only fall back is constant repetition.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 1, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

"Brush up on your mathematics by readings in Modern Algebra and you will read of geometry based upon functions and not axioms."

I think we have a winner folks!

"By the way even in the systems of geometry based upon axioms there has been change on the number of axioms that are required for this system. I believe the count is four and not the five as previously thought. This is not new but I am sure that there are still standardized tests where the idea of parallel lines is accepted as an axiom of geometry even though this is no longer true."

Maybe not. Are you done making a complete fool of yourself?


Posted by: physicsteacher | July 2, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

As people try to sort this out, keep in mind that Progressive Education, since at least 1930, was emphatically against content and foundational knowledge; nothing has changed. Standardized test force schools to teach basic information. The top educators hate this. They squeal. Which is not to say they are truthful about what they don't like.

Posted by: BruceDeitrickPrice | July 5, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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