Protests and what may happen to them

The following two posts came in to a Latin teacher listserv. My responses follow (2 of them):

> My students are so tested to death that when *I* need to truly evaulate
> where they are in Latin, they can hardly work up the energy to study.
> State mandated testing for No Child Left Behind, AP tests, End of Course
> tests.  I am truly sick of it.
> I think the state of Texas could solve our budget problems if we just
> specially coded computerized sheets, time, etc that could be used IN
> TEACHING.    And NOT in teaching to yet another test.
> And for the record, I wouldn’t provide charts.  IT’S A LANGUAGE.  If at
> the end of a sequence they can’t READ the language as a language….  A
> dictionary, maybe.
> (sorry.  me paenitet.  too many weeks of testing tying up my hands and I
> just want to be able to teach.)
>>> If Latin had a general standardized test like math and other fields
>> (SOLs,
>> Standards of Learning here in Virginia) is there information that
>> students
>> would have provided as math students get formulae sheets or have formulas
>> supplied, or students in some fields can use calculators?




second post (in reply to above)

Amen about the standardized testing – I agree with X (on so many things!). A couple days ago, when I asked my AP students what they wanted to do after the AP test, since we still have two weeks before school ends, and many of them said, “Can we do the stuff which you learned at Latin immersion camp (Rusticatio) last summer?” To which I responded without thinking, “Yes, FINALLY!!” It is sad that for the past 33 weeks I have been teaching students towards a test, and now I am finally able to teach what (and in the manner which) I want, ONLY because the test is over…
And regarding a state-standardized Latin test (which I oppose with every fiber of my being), no charts. For our state standardized math exams, the math questions and skills tested must be asked in a way that a student could still get the correct answer WITHOUT a calculator (using the pen/paper method) or using a basic calculator issued to each student for the test, so a calculator does make the process easier and quicker, but it does not explain how to do the problem. 

My responses:

I’m still trying to find this verb in the dictionary under “e” 🙂

I’m going to cut loose here so I hope I don’t put anyone off.
Few fl teachers agree with you, X. To them, the essence of learning a fl
is assembling a bunch of parts. You start by identifying the parts and then
slowly begin assembling them into units that go to make up the apparatus. In
the case of language, it is the grammatical parts (seldom the phonology) and
to a lesser extent the syntax (more so in Latin). One learns the parts, how
they fit together, and then how to create, slowly and painfully, complete
sentences. But in order to justify this miserable process (which some people
enjoy; I, for one and possibly most Latin teachers but hardly anyone else)
only the highest (and most verbally complex) literature must be read, like
bumping an ESL student from See Spot Run to Lo! The postilion has been
struck by lightening! in 2 years. All this is to be accomplished,
inexplicably and with no research I am aware of to back up its efficacy, by
translating from one language to the other. Since translating is a skill in
and of itself, that’s like teaching someone algebra but doing it in
Chinese – something crucial gets lost from both the algebra and the Chinese.

Nevertheless, the hoary vines of academe strangle any attempt to even
discuss this, let alone change it. I just finished seeing the handiwork of
such Latin instruction up close and it ain’t purty. These folks are not
going to change, not for anything.

Therefore, you must set up your own criteria or, as X suggests and I
insist on, one criterion (don’t you just love Greek singulars and plurals?):
can the student read with comprehension a previously unseen passage in
normal, everyday Latin in the same way a German student should be able to
pick up a German magazine and read a letter to the editor with some

If I am not mistaken, this is unknown in Latin and would be regarded with
laughter and scorn if suggested as the basis for a test of Latin.




My second response:

I wouldn’t mind a standardized test to be given at the senior year, toward
the end of that year. The test would be straightforward: can you read and
listen to a passage in the TL (Latin need be only read) and understand it?
Producing the language is a lot to ask from a two year high school course,
but reaching the Intermediate Low in receptive ability after two years
should not be that much of a stretch.

In this way, teachers would have to forgo all the grammar study in order to
prepare their students to comprehend written and spoken language. There
would be precious little time for grammar analysis. In that sense, then,
teaching to the test would not be a bad idea. No one would know the text to
be used – it could be a newspaper article in modern languages or a fable in
the classical languages, anything previously unseen. And who would have time
for translations? Teaching to the test would mean preparing the student to
comprehend written and/or oral language. Isn’t that our goal?

The reason I oppose most tests, standardized or teacher generated, is that
they are not valid. It is extremely difficult to write a good test, although
simply asking a student to read or listen to a passage in a language they
have been communicating in for two to four years should not be too
complicated. Our state high-stakes test here in AZ took many rewrites to get
right and you had test experts writing it. I suspect most standardized tests
are the work of a committee and even they get it wrong a good deal of the
time. How valid are these “standardized” tests we give our students?

What you guys are seeing is the shallowest of
understanding of what learning is, of what an education is. It’s like when
my 5 year old was taught the names of all the AZ counties; it amazed our
friends who had no idea what all the counties’ (15 at the time; now it’s 16)
names were. But it made me suspicious and when we investigated we found
malpractice and abuse in the (private nursey) school. Counties!! The kid
didn’t even know what a county was.

But what’s wrong with an exit exam? If the kid wants to take Latin two
years, in eighth grade and his freshman year, fine. He still has to pass the
exit exam at the end of his senior year to verify his proficiency at a two
year level (or more). That would discourage the “get your language credit
out of the way; no one can learn French/Latin/Spanish/German anyway. Just
pass the fnal and get out” attitude.

Grammar is great and valuable, but teach it as a separate course. It does
not lead to comprehension of the language.


And here’s the one I actually sent in:

Is the problem just standardized tests or is it possibly invalid tests,
wrong-headed interpretation by unskilled persons, and an overload of bad
tests when one good test will do? Why not give a reading passage to students
at the end of their senior year for them to answer questions about to make
sure they understand it (it could be a spoken text, too). I just cannot
imagine me telling someone I know Russian and them handing me a newspaper
article in Russian and I can’t tell them what it says.(to cover
contingencies, we could allow students to select from several articles)

Upper levels might want to test for some other things, but from what I see
and hear, few students in any fl achieve this simple level of proficiency,
so why test for Flaubert when they can’t read the picture captions in Paris
Match, or test for Cicero when they can’t read a country preacher’s sermon
from the Middle Ages?

Please see my blog for further discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *