EDUCATION: More than job-training

Standardized Test Scores

The national obsession with standardized testing is possibly the worst fad ever to hit the public schools.

Testing can be a useful classroom tool for teachers who want to know if students are mastering the material being taught. A classroom teacher can create instruments with open-ended questions that actually test specific content. Tests like that take time to evaluate.

Standardized tests with their mechanically-scored multiple-choice questions are so broad in scope and so easy to guess at that they aren’t much good at revealing what a student has learned.

I’ll make an embarrassing confession of my own to illustrate what I mean.

When I went to school, diagramming was a fixture of English instruction.

Every year I delighted in the literature units, but dreaded the inevitable unit on diagramming.

Mind you, I made A’s on standardized grammar tests with their multiple-choice questions that required me to choose the correct form of a sentence.

When it came to diagramming a sentence, however, or naming the parts of speech, I was at a total loss.

I can still taste the humiliation of having to go up to the board to diagram a sentence without knowing what the heck I was supposed to be doing.

I drew the base line and made the attempt, but never could get it right. One of the clever left-brainers in the class always had to come to my section of the blackboard (yes, in my day it was black), wipe out my feeble efforts and do it right.

At diagramming I was a total failure, yet I managed to pass high school and college English with A’s without ever learning the difference between a preposition and an adverb or a direct object from a complement. I was also one of the best writers in my class.

The worst humiliation was yet to come.

It occurred when my practice-teaching mentor asked me to write the personal pronouns on the board. I had to whisper in her ear that I didn’t know what personal pronouns were.

Afterwards, she complained to the university for sending her an incompetent practice teacher. I was put into a dummy English class in my last semester. The instructor couldn’t figure out why because I aced all the tests he gave me.

MORAL: Just because a student aces all his English tests doesn’t mean he knows any grammar. High scores on standardized tests don’t necessarily equate to content learned.

Question you may be asking: How did I achieve my present understanding of English grammar?

I learned grammar because I had to teach it. The best way to learn anything is to study it with the intention of teaching it to someone else.

2 Responses

  1. Although I’m a right-brainer, I loved diagramming sentences in school. It helped me analyze sentences and visualize the ways the words relate to each other — in both their basic and more complicated forms.

    I realize that a lot of students struggled with diagramming, and I’m sorry to acknowledge that it’s a dying “art” form.

  2. Thank goodness someone agrees with me on digraming sentences! I look forward to the follow-up system.

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