Why Kids Don’t Pass the Basic Skills Test

28 Jan

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Why is it that so many kids in our public schools can’t pass a basic skills test?

Many kids just don’t care. Many kids just don’t want to. Better yet, they don’t want to have to prove it…not after 12 years of 180 days of study and lecture and practice and test taking and homework and notes and did I say 12 years??? They just went to school for 12 years and now, after having passed all of their required classes and met all other graduation requirements asked of them by their local school district, they still have to prove to the state that they were there and that all of the teachers and all of the administrators and guidance counselors and everyone else who says that they are ready to move on aren’t lying.

Of course those of us who make up the 70% of Americans who were raised to be anal retentive are more than happy to sit through 9 hours of testing over 3 days to prove that we know what you already know we know because, well because we’re anal retentive and we always do what we’re told. We just spent 12 years doing this crap! Now may I have a test please? May I have another?

But there is a percentage of children out there who have developed personalities that just don’t see any reward in proving it over and over, again and again, and certainly not in a marathon exam of tedious questions and answers. So they don’t take the test seriously. They fall asleep. They pick any old answers and skip the long winded and open ended questions and skimp on the essays just to get it over with as fast as they can. It’s the Pledge of Allegiance all over again. What does all of that repetition get you? How much rote learning will make you a patriot?

Many students just don’t see the logic of 12 years of schooling vs. 9 hours of testing especially when it is the 9 hours of testing that is most important and that will get them the diploma, not the 12 years. If the tests are so important then why not let children take them whenever they are ready? My own children could have graduated high school when they were 12 if that were the case. Yet students are asked to plow on through school until they are 17 years old and then Wham! Test time! Why do they have to do this? Because we have a government bureaucracy that demands standardized testing. And why do they demand this? Could it be because they are bureaucrats and that’s what bureaucrats do?

Students find standardized tests boring. They find most things that require their attention for more than 10 seconds boring but especially testing and tests. Asking a student to sit quietly for three hours and concentrate is like asking them to sit quietly without listening to their iPods for three minutes. Impossible! And many students never even get to the questions. No child left behind? They leave themselves behind: utterly and completely bored out of their minds. Give them a story to read about Dick and Jane or some other equally mundane 1950s characters or topics and they are guaranteed to be asleep in 10 minutes…boring, boring, booooooring!

Our students live in the 21st century but our standardized tests shall forever linger, as the students would say, “back-in-the-day”. I’d like to give all of the members of Congress and all of the elected members of all of the state governments a 9 hour exam on the Constitution of the United States and Federal and State laws and Robert’s Rules of Order and what ethics and honesty and trust mean and I’d like to give them a Basic Skills test too, including grammar and math and science and health. Then I’d like to make the test results public and have every person who did not pass, step down from office and return all of the money they had earned while doing a job that they were not qualified for. We could call it, “No Candidate Left Behind”.

Let teachers and schools and local boards of education do their jobs and let students who complete 12 long hard years of schooling, graduate with a high school diploma. Do you have any idea how much money we’ll all save in taxes if we all just go back to doing that? Those bureaucrats, who would never consent (For quite obvious reasons) to taking the test that I have just proposed, know…and it’s a fortune.

But let’s “be real” and assume that we are going to have to continue to give our public school students these tedious and ridiculous tests. How do we get kids to pass their high school exit exams whether it is The Regents, The High School Proficiency Assessment or whatever you want to call it? How do we get them to prove that they have actually learned something and have mastered basic skills in Mathematics and English after spending 12 years in school?

Well now let’s think about this for a minute…there is one test that everyone takes and everyone passes. Can you name it? It’s the Driver’s Test! Both the road test and written exam are taken and passed by virtually all who take it, and before they leave high school!

How is it possible that teenagers who cannot put pen to paper to prove that they can read with comprehension or cipher with the comparative skill of Lassie, can pass a test that allows them a license to operate a 2 ton vehicle at break neck speeds across interstate lines? And the Driver’s test is not that easy either! Applicants must score 70% or better on a written test containing anywhere from 25-50 questions. And get this! They also have to take a practical test! They have to actually drive the car! With an examiner in the passenger’s seat! Who’s an officer of the law! And they pass! Almost Everyone! You, me, Forest Gump! Who doesn’t get their license to drive?? And are the streets filled with unskilled drivers and haphazard carnage? Well, yes, but you see where I’m going here. They pass the test. They prove to the state that they know the rules and understand the regulations and can put the key in the ignition and even define ignition for that matter! And they know what yield means! And they can calculate mileage and read road signs and Parallel Park! And they study for this test in school and at home and on their own time because it is of paramount importance to them that they pass!

Yet these same 17 year old geniuses can’t pass a Basic Skills Test in Reading and Math after 12 years of study! Drivers test: 87-100%. Basic skills: 60-80%. Prove to me that you can do the most dangerous thing on Earth; (operating an automobile in traffic) everyone passes! Prove to me you’re a little bit smarter than a chimpanzee? 40% fail! How is this possible???

In the meantime…

You want to drive a car?

Then graduate from high school.

You drop out? YOU WALK! Problem solved!

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15 Responses to “Why Kids Don’t Pass the Basic Skills Test”

  1. John January 28, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    Great perspective, I agree. No pass, no drive.

  2. Jae January 28, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    The problem is a lot of teachers aren’t doing their jobs. My 6th grade elementary school teacher ran her cake decorating business out of the back of the class, and spent most of her time instructing us on how to do crafts. I remember getting to 7th grade and they were talking about percentages and fractions and I felt panicked thinking, “We never learned this!” Yes, because she never taught it. She’s still teaching today thanks to the unions. Watch “Waiting for Superman” it covers a lot of the problem with the public education system. There aren’t any consequences anymore. Didn’t do your homework? That’s okay, everyone gets a trophy, you showed up so here’s your diploma.

    That’s not to say every public school teacher is garbage. I had a few that did a decent job, a few more still that were excellent, but certainly not a majority. We need some kind of testing to prove kids are actually learning something or anything in class. And schools need the power to fire teachers who run their cake decorating businesses in the back of their classrooms. But until that happens, kids will continue to fail. It’s a real shame. After my public school experience I’m determined to get my kids into a chartered or private school or even home school myself so they don’t come out dumber than a box of rocks.

  3. A Voice January 29, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    There is a lot that can be said about this, almost too much. Here are what I see as the two key points. (I’ll leave higher education off until another time, though it is relevant here.)

    First, there is no real concern for education in this country and it comes from all angles.
    (1) Children from my generation (the ’80s) have long seen the point of school being to graduate and get the diploma, not the knowledge that came through it the journey. They also saw that neither their parents nor their educators were particularly interested in fostering education. Children that are more intelligent than the rest are often given busy work instead of more challenging work, skipped a grade, or are sent to AP courses where they can earn college credit. The emotional ramifications of these three practises are greater than people realise. Schooling currently demands memorisation and nothing but memorisation, so children simply do that. This helps to reinforce the idea that all that matters it the test results and the diploma, that the ability to think critically or at all isn’t necessary because all you need are the answers. You don’t have to get them yourself, no, you just need to possess them because, again, it’s the possession of the right answers and not the ability to discern them that is important. (This behaviour has stunted the mental development of generations.)
    (2) Parents are more interested in getting to their jobs and unwinding when they get home than legitimately caring about what their children do. Children see this, they see the pressure their parents still put on them while not caring, and the children also do not care. Some parents also simply don’t care about their children, a surprising number actually, they simply provide the basic necessities and as long as the child isn’t rocking the boat everything is fine.
    (3) Educators often see their career as merely a job. More and more, they put up with children who have been affected in the ways that I’ve mentioned while, at the same time, dealing with the politics of the school they teach at and an insufficient salary. They aren’t treated as poorly as Customer Service Personnel, but CSRs don’t have to worry about being shot. In this category are also the administrators of the schools, people who don’t have the job to actually educate but to handle the business of education. When all you see is money its hard to give a nano-fuck about anything else.
    (4) Corporations aren’t concerned with sponsoring education reform. The associates (there are no employees anymore, nevermind the signage) with children have to be their on time and see to their own issues on their own time or they’ll be fired. After all, someone else without ‘those goddamn kids’ can do the same work. Mainly, though, people higher-up in corporations know that dumber people ask fewer questions and buy more, ‘cost-effectively made’ things much more readily.
    (5) Politicians aren’t concerned with sponsoring education reform. This is an absolute mire and I won’t get into it beyond saying that there are so many special interests and so few politicians interested in actually being Statesmen. If you are aware of the difference between a politician and a statesman than you know, if not I encourage you to look up the difference.

    Second, the Driver’s License is considered a right and is far too easy to obtain. In reality, a Driver’s License is a license to pilot a vehicle. (See, the language we use is important here, language is always important.) There is an exceptional responsibility involved in driving and yet, despite this, we see a terrible amount of accidents each and every day caused by drivers who refuse to take driving seriously. The young are often too excited and too distracted by their idiotic fascination with what’s happening on their phone. The old believe that they know everything because, well, they’re old and damnit you’re not going to take their license away! Those two groups are the worst offenders and make my point the most readily. People treat a Driver’s License like it is a right and an absolute necessity, so they do what they have to in order to get it and…well, there’s just no money in it for corporations or politicians to make stronger rules. People who can’t get to the mall can’t buy what’s at the mall.

  4. momshieb January 29, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    Oh, I do love the idea of “No candidate left behind!”

  5. TechChucker January 29, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    I disagreed with pretty much all of your perspectives, but I did like your solution. For the sake of time, I’ll just leave it at that. ;-)

  6. ginaquilts January 29, 2013 at 2:36 am #

    Very interesting. I read an article this week that 70% of our town’s incoming freshmen didn’t test into high school math and 56% didn’t test into high school level English. I am stunned by those numbers!

  7. Barbara Backer-Gray January 29, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    If you are a devoted teacher, and you honestly teach the best you can, then I understand your frustration. But the problem is that there ARE schools that lie, there ARE teachers that lie, there ARE superintendents and school boards that lie. Believe me, I’ve worked for such a school district. Teachers who didn’t know anything, the Special Ed teacher fired at the beginning of the year, right after the inspectors had visited, and then not replaced all year, so the money could go to the new football field, and the Special Ed kids “taught” by a teacher’s assistant who didn’t even know that information in encyclopedias is arranged alphabetically, a teacher’s assistant who had to teach the Special Ed kids biology and geography but who didn’t even know what those words meant. Good teachers who want to teach kids natural consequences by giving them a bad grade if they haven’t done the work, and are then told by the principal to change the grades to passing. Superintendents who would rather put failing kids in Special Ed so they can graduate without doing the testing than getting down on teachers who don’t teach. And I could go on and on and on. And because so many schools don’t teach, so many schools do lie, those kids go to college and then it turns out they haven’t learned a darn thing in those twelve years. Those colleges then have to play catch-up, aka a bachelor’s degree, which costs the kids who were already screwed over by their schools AGAIN because they’re now paying for four years of education that doesn’t give them a profession. In this country you need a Master’s degree for that. The only way to even begin to address the problem is to hold schools accountable, to make them prove that they are, indeed, not lying. Of course it’s ridiculous to have kids test for nine hours at a time, but I’ve never heard of that. Usually it’s spread out over several days. It’s unfortunate that the kids are bored and fill in whatever, but if they had learned their stuff, they would be bored and fill in the right answers. The fact that they don’t says it all. Sorry for the rant, but I’ve seen the worst of the public school system, and it can only be that bad if there is no one to hold anyone accountable. And that screws the kids over a whole lot more than having to take a few tests every now and then.

  8. Jason January 29, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    I love this argument! It seems to me that public education has to have some form of testing to justify the amount of money that is spent on it. There are many ways you could test that do not include those three marathon days at the end of twelve years, but they all have their problems. They experimented with continuous assessment in the UK but many people thought it was worse: the hardnuts thought it was dumbing down; the softies thought it was just a way of applying continuous pressure.

    Working to the test is a logical short-term strategy, but I have always encouraged my kids to think beyond that, both my own kids and the kids I have taught. I’m a softie not a hardnut but I believe there is nothing wrong with rote-learning and hard work if it gets you where you want to be. The big issue is knowing what you want and feeling like that matters. I don’t mean some airy fairy fanciful notion here, but something concrete that you can do with your life.

    Schools are appalling institutions that constantly reinforce bureaucratic mentalities. It is no wonder so many kids rebel against them. I don’t believe that kids that don’t do well at school are failures and you only have to talk to a representative range of adults to find that there are as many useless school “successes” as there are “failures”.

    It is true that you have to be good at school to get into school-like professions. It doesn’t make sense to me to schoolify the whole of society in order to ensure that you have good doctors and technicians. So I would vote for a drastically reduced version of school that uses much less money, much less teacher time and much less physical resources.

  9. sarahlangdon January 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    I love your suggestion for elected officials having to take a test on the Constitution!

  10. TamrahJo January 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Great Post – I wasn’t allowed to take my driver’s test until I had changed the oil, spark-plugs and had rotated all four tires on my dad’s work truck – – :>)

    I question the value of standardized tests and traditional teaching methods in conjunction with the neurological wiring of brains exposed to more interactive methods than my generation – (yes, I mean TV and Xbox – – :>) and a world where the ability to find the information and discern it’s legitimacy is of more importance than a complete memorization of a small slice of history.

    I thought Sir Ken Robinson’s exploration of this subject in “Changing Education Paradigms” was elegant and concise –

    http://ballybin.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/new-look-education/

    As for “No Candidate Left Behind” – I’m on board – where do I sign?

  11. lyndaanning January 31, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    hi i’m from the uk so it’s a bit different here but i found your blog and some of the comments very interesting and your solution made me laugh.

  12. marsgyrl February 1, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    As a public school teacher I say…hell ya!!! As a parent and future senior citizen (in about 40 years LOL) I say… that’s life. As adults we have to pass performance measures regularly and I personally don’t want anyone incapable of passing a standardized test…running our country! (and yes I do realize the tests are biased and unfair…but hey isn’t life?)

  13. 1tric February 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    This blog was about me!! Went happily through life getting just enough to pass. It was always enough for me to know I could do it, if I wanted to, I just usually chose not to!

  14. kristine February 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    Haha: “How much rote learning will make you a patriot?”

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