The following url should get you to the Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010 article in the NYT Week In Review section titled Testing, the Chinese Way, by Elisabeth Rosenthal:
My comments refer to specific lines in that article. I will try to quote what I am referring to but it will be better if you have the article in front of you.
This article contains all the misleading thinking and language that make discussion of education in this country so unmanageable. Within seconds, you are thrust into a camp; you are either for rigor and achievement or you are for a mediocre, no-nothing, feel-good society where nothing is asked and much is given. IOW, the welfare state, the nanny state.
I’m responding to this without regard for length or readability b/c I want to get the job done. I am a high school foreign language teacher and one of the first things I noted on entering the field at a late age is that few students came out of a foreign language classroom able to use the language. I had had the same experience as a psychotherapist in a mental health center: lots of mild, calming drugs and no progress in managing one’s life.
I set out to make sure my students could use the language (I taught Spanish, Russian and Latin. Post-retirement I still teach Latin). It has been a tough but fun – yes, fun – 25 years. My wife was a teacher and counselor for 35 years, starting out in segregated schools.
Let me start with the title, Chinese. It was not Chinese, it was an international school in China whose students were going back to the U.S., not competing in the Chinese society. Keep this “going back” in mind as you read. With all the “testing” Rosenthal recounts, nowhere does she tell what the results were – not the test results, but what kind of education the students received, i.e. how do Chinese kids grow up? What does their system of education inculcate in them in terms of attitudes, habits, orientation toward key factors like learning, status, motivation, innovation, authority, and so on.
She writes, “In Asia, such a march of tests for young children was regarded as normal, and not EVIL or particularly anxiety provoking.” By intimation, those of us who question testing’s value see them as evil. No we don’t. We see them………. wait a minute. What testing? What tests? We’ll get to that. But realize how the writer sets us up as hand-wringers worried about EVIL. No we aren’t. We are worried about bad education, of which bad testing can be a part.
The Western parents (would that include French and other nationalities whose countries rely on high-stakes testing far more than Americans do?) “…were more concerned with whether their kids were having fun….” Really? Stop and think, how many parents do you talk to whose primary concern is whether their children are having fun in school. Maybe these international parents were in a cult.
The rhetorical devices abound. She describes her bouts of tears with her five year old “…who was clearly not “ready” to read….” (cue laughter). Of course, the American/Western/wimp class is confounded by the fact that the boy did go on to read and, moreover, remembers his “Chinese” education with warmth. Cue to scene of outraged “educator” professors in U.S. universities shaking their hippy hair in consternation.
According to the author, the “norm” in this country will be upset as new programs demand testing to see how kids are achieving. OK, all those teachers who don’t test, raise your hands. All those parents whose kids don’t get tested regularly, raise your hands. Bear this in mind as we see where the author’s kids go to school once their feet are planted on U.S. soil, good old U.S.A. Probably a rural school in Nebraska, right? No testing there, right?
Rosenthal asks, “What makes a test feel like an interesting challenge rather than an anxiety-provoking assault?” Good lord, woman! Now you are saying, I guess, that the tests in China were interesting challenges to the children. OK, show of hands again, how many parents would feel pretty good if their kids’ tests were perceived by their children to be “interesting challenges”? How many prefer the “anxiety-provoking” kind? How many think that if a teacher has prepared the students, any test should be seen as the former and not the latter?
So what this veteran of the Chinese education system (not really) is saying is that good teachers prepare their students for tests so that those tests are seen as interesting challenges. As John Stewart would say, “Go o-o-o-n-n-n.”
Again, the question is what are the results of testing among the Chinese students who are not flying back to Manhattan any time soon?
We are assaulted ourselves by more inane and baseless assumptions. America has a no-test philosophy for young children. Ask your nearest third grader about that. (my fourth grade grandson just walked by and I asked him if he knew what tests were, if he had any. His answer? Mostly tests but sometimes we get to look up information for ourselves. His school is in Chandler, AZ, a hotbed of wild progressives who want children to be taught naked while smoking dope. Our local sheriff, Joe Arpaio, whom you all know, I am sure, certainly condones naked education and dope smoking —- you know, I may have to apologize at some point for this sarcasm, but not yet. I am so sick of people like Rosenthal and the editors of the NYT. We will NEVER get significant education reform with stupid, stupid articles like this “informing” the public).
Rosenthal then refers to NCLB and its “standardized” tests. Finally, a little specificity. Even more awaits us a little farther down the paragraph where she introduces the notion of formative tests. What she leaves out is that any kind of test on which a teacher’s salary depends will be taught to.
Now into the middle of the article, Rosenthal starts making qualifications. Citing experts like Cizek, she wants us to know that tests must be appropriate; she might have said valid. Curiously, new tests are forthcoming; why new? If testing is just fine, why do we need new ones? Why not the old ones that other experts complained about? And how about Chinese tests? If their testing is so productive of learning, why not just translate them and use them?
Cizek joins the crew by telling us that teachers here employ unconditional praise and support and just tell their students that they are wonderful. Frequent testing allows kids who are doing poorly to get help and then have the satisfaction of doing better. Most of us normal Americans just call that “school”. If you are getting a feeling that Cizek and Rosenthal are talking about something other than our neighborhood schools, just wait.
Wonder of wonders, Rosenthal starts quoting Alfie Kohn, one of my favorite authors on education. In her quote from his work, he uses the qualifying word “destructive” in talking about tests which he doesn’t like. Kohn says some schools are being turned into test prep centers. I saw that happen at my school where lunch time was given over to test prep, but only for the students who had trouble on our high-stakes test here in AZ.
Rosenthal is not uncritical of Chinese high-stakes tests and she even cites anxiety as a problem. It does make you wonder what she thinks critics of the test mania in the U.S. are talking about. Kohn is quoted as saying that good teachers don’t need tests to know if their students are learning, but he is referring to young children. I feel the same way about my students but I test to let others know what I know.
I also know that the small classes and working toilets in my school do help the learning process, but critics of U.S. education like to ignore the fact that test scores are high in well-run schools with well-off students and low in devastated neighborhoods beset by poverty. Recognizing that would mean we would have to do something about it and our colonial society would have to upend the traditional balance of access to wealth.
Frantic teachers will use tests to punish students who are depriving them of their incomes. Bad teachers have always done that; it’s part of their mentality that believes people are naturally evil and need punishment to straighten them out.
As usual, this author, Rosenthal, tells us that life is full of tests, thus stretching the word’s meaning out of recognition. The only place I take tests is in an educational setting. Licensed professionals like beauticians take tests but they are adults. Life is about producing results, not passing tests. But when you slip over into the meaning of trials and tribulations for “test”, then you can say this. Cizek is again quoted as if he is saying that nuturing and facilitating are bad and that testing is the opposite of those; somehow I doubt he actually said that. Rosenthal doesn’t like tests that are a judgment on your being…… wow! What kind of tests have I been complaining about, tests that judge your being or tests that are a challenge? As I recall, it was tests that didn’t allow unprepared kids who had completed all their high school requirements to graduate.
Recall now that Rosenthal’s kids were going back to America. Where to? A “progressive school” in NYC. Really? How many of us can put our kids in such a school? They switched to one of NYC’s “academic public schools”. I would lo-o-o-ove to hear more about that school. Would it be like one of our public schools here in Chandler, AZ.? The first school, the progressive one, “with no real tests, no grades….” and in such subtle ways we are asked to believe that this is what most American schools are like?
Show of hands again: how many of you have kids in a school with no tests and no grades? The tenor of the article is that this is how American schools are run. My guess is that this applies only to private or special public schools in NYC and parts of Massachusetts. But the article will go a long ways in convincing American readers that we have to get “tough”. And this is a liberal slant? What are the conservatives in Omaha advocating, razor wire and whips?