Tuesday, January 11, 2005

As Yost was saying . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:33 AM |  

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column that linked several articles appearing in a single day’s Pioneer Press to show how themes run throughout the newspaper. You can find them if you look for them. There’s a mini-example on today’s editorial page.

Mark Yost writes a thought-provoking OP-ED piece on the culture of mediocrity and does a little linking of his own. Leading with the NFC North title game, in which the Packers who won the NFC title outright and beat a mediocre Vikings team twice still had to play them a third time to advance in the playoffs, Yost points to a disturbing trend -- mediocre performance is lauded more than achievement. He notes that it goes well beyond the playing field and then sites examples in four categories -- schools, business, crime, and welfare. Of schools he writes --
Our schools focus more on self-esteem than learning. Events from science fairs to spelling bees don't so much honor excellence as make sure everyone gets a "participation" ribbon.

While most agree the system needs fixing, we argue over choice and vouchers, which would introduce new ideas and give parents the ability to act on them. Teachers are judged under a union-mandated system that rewards seniority rather than merit. Then we wonder why engineering and software jobs are going to bright kids in India and China who have been encouraged from birth to excel.
Also on today’s Pioneer Press Opinion Page is an institutional editorial that talks about the possibility that Minnesota might blend the eighth-grade Basic Skills Test into the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment exam.

Grant it, it’s a brief editorial, but no where in the piece is the word “performance” mentioned. For the uninitiated, it’s not explained the rationale behind the different tests, what they are intended to accomplish or what they measure. Simplistically, the editorial states “Two tests for the price of one. Makes loads of sense to us.”

Besides lacking any reference to student performance, the editorial unintentionally makes Yost’s point.
Combining exams in eighth grade means less paperwork and a savings time and money, as well as improved morale. Think of it as another step toward streamlining the state's standardized testing regimen.
Improved morale -- sounds a lot like self-esteem. Less paperwork -- makes life easier for teachers and administrators, but is it good for the kids? That appears to be a secondary consideration. So, what? As Yost points out, if we don’t get it right, we can always have a “do-over.”

UPDATE: Check out Tom Swift’s excellent discussion of tests and testing. Provides far more insight than a few simple platitudes.