Re: DSM: Dismal according to their own measure...

Chris Hawkins (
Sun, 3 Oct 1999 17:37:45 -0400

At 3:35 PM -0700 1999-09-28, Joseph Moore wrote:

>Once upon a time, I wrote about American institutional schooling:
> >the level of education in this
> >country is appalling even according to their own measures.
>And Joe Jackson wrote back:
> Of course I agree with this statement, but what do you do if someone
> challenges it! In other words, what sources of information would
>you cite
> to back it up?
>Here's an example:
>(BTW: reading the sample questions with my overly gimlet eye, I wonder if
>the writers should be judging anybody else's writing...)
> September 28, 1999
> Study: Students Can't Write Well
> Filed at 11:25 a.m. EDT
> By The Associated Press
> WASHINGTON (AP) -- About three-fourths of the nation's
>school children demonstrated only partial mastery of the knowledge and
>skills needed to write proficiently for their grade level, the Education
>Department reported today.
> Testers asked 60,000 fourth-graders, eighth-graders and
>12th-graders to write stories, personal essays, reports about events or
>experiences and persuasive pieces.
[--- rest snipped ---]

How does citing such test statistics help make a case for democratic,
free schools?

If SVS were to submit its students to such a test -- probably a
violation of its principles if the test were mandatory -- isn't there
a good chance that they might score below average? The point is -- in
the short run, to anyone who knows what the school tries to do -- that
possible result shouldn't matter. It wouldn't be a surprise to find
that students who may not have started reading yet (because they
haven't become interested) won't read and write as well as students
who have been forced to do it for several hours each week. The only
possible vindication is if everything tends to even out at a later
age, as some free schooling advocates suggest.

Moreover, if you take such results seriously, the conclusion most
people would draw would be in favor of *more* regimentation, not less.
Many of the countries that do well in the international comparisons
have very rigorous school systems. (There are some exceptions, but
they don't get much attention.) If you want the average math test
score of all US students to rise, the simplest way is to teach more
math. The test score wouldn't tell you that the improvement might come
at the expense of more students becoming afraid of or disliking math.

There might be a reasonable use for tests, if they were just used to
track changes in a nonevaluative way. As things are now, however, the
tests are a horse race; free schools don't (and shouldn't) have a
horse in that race.

Chris Hawkins

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