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What’s So Standard about All This Testing?

Where Do We Go From Here?

When I began writing in this blog, my goal was to research the advantages and disadvantages which standardized testing have on students and teachers. I also intended on finding evidence to support whether standardized testing is an ethical way of “placing” students. Lucky for me, I learned much more than expected about both the negative and positive sides of standardized testing. Though my opinion on standardized testing has remained consistent throughout this blog, I was able to find a huge array of evidence to support my position concerning S.T.

Because the state awards scholarship money to college-bound Michigan students, standardized tests such as the MEAP have become slightly beneficial. Other standardized tests such as the ACT still smother students with unnecessary stress. The ACT also causes many students to obsess over their scores, ultimately damaging self-confidence for those students that don’t score as high as their sisters, brothers, or friends.

In addition to the direct negative effects which standardized testing has on students, I also discussed tracking in schools based on race. This pertains directly back to Linda Christensen’s discussion regarding the achievement gap between the African American students and white students achieving successful AP test exams. I have emphasized many times throughout this blog that AP classes can be a very beneficial depending on whether or not a student is intellectually motivated. The tracking system, which doesn’t allow specific individuals into AP classes based on standardized tests scores, is unethical. If a student is told he/she is not smart enough to participate in high-level courses based on their racial standing or score on a given standardized test, it can ultimately lead to the student’s complete disinterest in education all together.

I also discussed teacher versus S.T. expectations regarding student writing. Teachers often have a difficult time preparing students for the writing test on the MEAP, even though the MEAP grades almost solely on grammar, punctuation, spelling, and ability to support main themes in the paper. English teachers have a tough job because they don’t simply deliver information to students, but they have to teach students how to organize thoughts in a way which they can later be transferred to paper. While some teachers require students to write the standard 5-paragraph essay, others encourage students to write creatively. However, some people who grade standardized tests use rubrics which concentrate on looking for a specific type of paper, while other graders look for originality and thought. In reality, standardized writing tests really rely on whether or not the student is lucky enough to get a grader that likes his/her style of paper.

If I do, in fact, become an English teacher some day, I fear that I will be forced to face the inevitable fate that I will end up teaching a curriculum which conforms to the expectations of standardized testing. Especially after I wrote “Standardized tests put standardized students into standardized classes, ultimately shaping them into masses of standard people” (March 1). My biggest goal as a teacher is simply to be original and innovative. I want to find a way to effectively teach students to apprietiate literature while also helping them to earn successful scores on standardized tests. This blog, class + the bright ideas convention have given me some awesome tips, and I can’t wait to put some of them into action!

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April 15, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Putting Bright Ideas, Concepts, and Presentations into Motion

My experience at the Bright ideas conference was beneficial, that is, after I found the Union. I was shooting to catch Jacqueline Woodson’s keynote conversation, but unfortunately I didn’t know the area as well as I thought I did. So I spent tons of time driving around Lansing/Okimos/East Lansing. It’s alright though; when I got to the convention they gave me a name tag with a plastic sleeve which made me feel very cool and important!

The first presentation I attended at 11:00 was “Macbeth: Using Technology to Enhance the Teaching of Shakespeare.” The presenters included Lindsay Steenbergen and Jeff Patterson, both of whom are high school teachers at Portage Public Schools. The presentation was principally concerned with introducing new technology which can be used in the English classroom in order to help students relate to a given piece of literature. The introduction began by explaining the importance of three key concepts in understanding literature:

1. Motivation
Steenbergen and Patterson emphasized the fact that students often find the presentation of Shakespeare to be foreign and impersonal, and therefore are rarely able to hold an interest in it. In order to “facilitate connections between Shakespeare and students of today,” Steenbergen and Patterson suggested encouraging students to embody the literature and make it personal to them.
2. Embodiment
In order to better understand the text, students should be encouraged to “think critically about the character and place the character into real world situations” to which they are accustomed.
3. Textual Intervation
One of the most effective ways for students to understand a text is to rearrange what the author is saying in a way that makes since to him/her. Steenbergen and Patterson placed a great deal of emphasis on the helpfulness of textual intervention.

“The best way to understand how a test works is to change it to play around with it, to intervene in it in some way (large or small), and then try to account for the exact effect of what you have done. In practice- not just in theory- we have the option of making changes at all levels, from the merest nuance of punctuation or intonation to total recasting in terms of genre, time, place, participants, and medium” (Pope).

Source (from presentation): Pope, Rob. Textual Intervention: Critical and Creative Strategies for Literary Students.

In order to put these concepts into motion, Steenbergen and Patterson suggested two methods that could be of use. The first was Steenbergen’s 10th grade class’s reenactment of “Macbeth” using video cameras and computer programs. She showed us a few examples of the videos, which were creative, entertaining, and appeared to portray the idea that the students had a decent understanding of the text. In addition to learning the text, students were also given the opportunity to use computer programs such as iMovie and Garageband (which Patterson gave us a short tutorial of) in order to create their videos. Steenbergen described a good method of organizing the creation of these videos in a time period of only 2-3 days:

1. Brainstorming
2. Creation of Script
3. Videotaping (home/school- Most high schools have at least one camera available for checkout in the AV department.)
4. Editing (iMovie, WMP)
5. Optional addition of music (Garageband, Fruit Loop)

Students were able to create some very entertaining adaptations of Macbeth such as “Real World: Scotland Edition,” “The Three Witches Psychic Hotline,” and “Jerry Springer feat. Macbeth.” Steenbergen also mentioned that she required her class to write a paper on Macbeth in order to evaluate students’ individual understanding of the text, the video project was simply a fun and refreshing way for students to gain interest in literature that might otherwise seem foreign to them.

Patterson’s English class is currently in the process of creating a networking bubble for the characters in Macbeth. Instead of using Myspace, Patterson created a Myspace-like template on Microsoft PowerPoint, in which he includes hyperlinks to other Macbeth characters on PowerPoint- ultimately giving it a Myspace-y feel which many students are able to relate to. The only downfall, however, was that the templates didn’t have a space for commenting between characters. Basically, the students could only post pictures and blog. Still effective, but definitely not as fun as using a real Myspace account!

The second session I attended at 1:45 was David and Bethany’s presentation “‘Whose space is it?’ Integrating Social Networking Sites into English Language Arts Instruction.” Like most young students, I am very familiar with Myspace, so I probably would have loved the opportunity to do an activity like this in high school. Unfortunately, most schools (currently) will not allow teachers to utilize Myspace as an educational tool based on the possibility that students may abuse that privilege by using their own personal Myspace pages during school hours. Though there are substitutes for using the actual online networking community, the other methods probably wouldn’t be nearly as effective as actually using Myspace. This is partially because Myspace offers the option to send secret messages between characters in addition to many features which are only featured on Myspace.

The presentation was not only convincing for me, but it seemed as though the individuals around me were responding well to it. I overheard a couple of people talking, one of which said he was the principal of a school. He spoke as though he was entirely convinced by the presentation, and insisted that he would like to allow the use of Myspace in English classes. If this idea could be proposed in a similar fashion to more individuals who dictate the standard methods used for English education, the decision to make Myspace unavailable in schools would probably be reversed. Although Myspace has been the root of danger for a few teenagers, English teachers can require privacy settings for their Myspace accounts, which will ultimately make the assignment 100% safe.

My favorite part of this presentation was Dave’s podcast regarding M.T. Anderson’s book, Feed. Creating audio trailers for books could potentially be a very effective way of advertising for authors and encouraging young readers to take interest in novels. If you haven’t already, you should check out the feed here. It’s really cute and gives great insight into the book, which I really want to read now!

You can also find the Myspace character communities developed by Dave and Bethany at these sites: The Great Gatsby, Feed . Kudos to Dave and Bethany on a job well done!

Lastly, I went to the 3:00 presentation entitled “Mini Lessons from Scratch.” Unfortunately, this particular conference was not of much benefit to me. The description said that the presentation was beneficial for all age groups, but I had a hard time making a connection based on the fact that the presenters related all three lessons to elementary school students.

During the first lesson we read a children’s poem and actively discussed what poetic methods the author used (alliteration, rhyming, etc). The lesson was incredibly rushed, and it seemed as though a great deal of time was wasted throughout because of side-talk and tangents.

The second lesson was on grammar. Basically, we read a portion of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and worked in groups to turn the “informal language” (which was actually Ebonics) into “formal language.” I had a tough time with this particular exercise because I recently wrote a paper for my linguistics class regarding the idea that American society’s rejection of Ebonics in the classroom is actually not entirely ethical.

The last lesson concerned the methods which publishers use to make informative children’s books appealing (Using questions as headlines, colorful/thematic page layouts, intriguing illustrations, and bold-typed key topics within text.)
Unfortunately, this presentation wasn’t as interesting/beneficial as the previous two had been; it was very rushed, and very focused on students in elementary school. On a fun note, however, they gave us these cute little note cards which held the “Recipe for a Great Mini Lesson:”

Ingredients:
– 1 dab of connection
– cup of a single teaching point
– 1 scoop of active involvement
– 1 pinch of a link to taste
Directions
– Stir together.
– Let it marinate.
– Allow time for writers to write 20-30 minutes.
– Follow up with a dallop of share time.

Now that is something, with a little imagination and interpretation, that maybe I can use!

All in all, the Bright Ideas concert was very informative and beneficial. I learned about quite a few new concepts and ways of teaching which I had not considered before. I look forward to attending another conference in the future, but I next time I won’t miss the Keynote!

April 15, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ACT Obsession + Standardized Writing and Rubrics

According to the Casper Star Tribune Wyoming has passed a new law requiring that all high school juniors take the ACT. In fact, the state dispersed one voucher to each high school junior which will allow him to take the test for free. This could be a positive thing, since the ACT won’t waste anymore of the students’ money, but unfortunately, some Wyoming kids are still obsessed with taking the test a thousand times:

“An ACT college entrance exam score of 26 may be outstanding for some students, but for high school junior Todd Cheney it’s not good enough. The 17-year-old junior at Kelly Walsh High School is hoping to beat his brother’s score of 31 when he uses his state voucher to retake the ACT for free during the June 9 testing. He also plans to continue to take the test as a senior if he doesn’t beat his brother’s score this time.”

My ACT score was lower than my big sister’s score, but I didn’t retake the test. I guess we never had the intelligence feud in my family. Unfortunately, if Cheney can’t get his score above a 31, he is going to have to face the fact that he’s just not as smart as his brother. After all, that is what standardized testing measures, right?

Many students stress out over preparation for the ACT. I recall my parents forcing me to take a three hour prep course. I also recall doing practice problems in a study guide which was the size of a phone book. I never stopped to realize that standardized tests are given to measure a student’s aptitude, not how much information she can cram the week before the test. A few Wyoming girls are cramming for the April 14th test right now. Fortunately, they don’t have to pay any money to waste 3 hours of their lives:

“Erin Lund, 17, and Jordan Merback, 16, both juniors at Kelly Walsh, are also preparing for the test. Lund has been preparing by reading ACT books from the school library, and she took the ACT practice test. She also took the PSAT last year. ‘You can never really be fully prepared for this,’ she said.”

Unfortunately, the voucher doesn’t cover the ACT plus test, which includes the new writing portion of the ACT. Teachers now have to push students into a standard way of writing in addition to a standard way of learning everything else. How are teachers standardizing students’ writing techniques? The answer, according to Alfie Kohn is the common classroom occurrence of rubrics. Teachers often give their students a rubric as a guideline for their papers. However, rubrics can severely limit a student’s quality of writing based on how detailed that rubric is.

“Mindy Nathan, a Michigan teacher and former school board member… realized that students presumably have grown accustomed to rubrics in other classes, and now seemed ‘unable to function unless every required item is spelled out for them in a grid and assigned point value’” (Kohn 13).

If that isn’t harmful enough to the student’s education in writing, Nathan also said that the rubrics ultimately cause students to “not have confidence in their thinking and writing skills and seem unwilling to really take risks” (Kohn 13). I suppose if standardized writing tests become more common among high school students, we are probably going to see an increase of rubrics, which ultimately guide students to write standard papers that will all sound alike. In actuality, the situation can be simplified with a claim made in Kohn’s article by writer Marilyn French:

“‘Only extraordinary education is concerned with learning’ whereas ‘most is concerned with achieving: and for young minds these two are very nearly opposites’” (Kohn 14).

Sources:
Casper Star Tribune – “Students use vouchers to take ACT for free”

Kohn, Alfie, “The Trouble with Rubrics”, English Journal, March 2006, VOl. 95(4), pp 12-15 Read the PDF File

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Do You Know Your Punctuation (insert question mark here)

You’re a high school English teacher, inevitably getting kids ready for the standardized writing tests they are about to take. A reporter approaches you outside the school building and asks: “What is the most important thing in writing effectively?” Obviously, I’m not a teacher yet, but I could probably envision myself saying something like “syntax,” “overall organization,” or “imagination.” However, I would be in for a rude awakening because apparently, high-schoolers are having a really tough time figuring out how to use punctuation.

According to an article by the East Bay Daily News, recent statistics show that “less than 60 percent of incoming freshman [at Diablo Valley College] tested at remedial levels in English.” Now, colleges are running development writing courses which are designed to help these students catch up. The report also shows, what I think is a very strange response regarding the most important thing about writing effectively:

“College instructors ranked punctuating the end of a sentence correctly as the 2nd most important thing in writing effectively. High school teachers ranked that skill as the 31st most important thing.”

I always figured that students mastered the art of punctuation in elementary school. But apparently, this isn’t just a freak incident which took place at DVC. In fact, most colleges look for very different skills than those which high school instructors are teaching students:

“Teachers at all levels value organized, coherent writing from their students. But college professors more often rated punctuation as paramount, the study says, while high school teachers placed more importance on developing a topic and writing a great introductory paragraph.”

Personally, I had a different experience regarding high school writing versus college writing. College writing has never been particularly focused on the grammatical issues within my papers. In college, content is key. Now, many schools are taking a different approach to improve the weaknesses of freshman college students:

“Professor Alison Warriner of Cal State East Bay serves on a state task force to improve writing at the high school level. In 2005, state superintendent of public schools Jack O’Connell created a council to foster relationships between educators at the preschool, K-12 and college levels.”

So how do standardized writing tests help this issue? One might assume that skills obtained in high school are ones which ready students for standardized tests, and standardized tests play a large role in admission to college. Therefore, in a perfect world, a student who passes a standardized writing test should be ready for college writing as long as she knows how to use her semi-colons and commas. Too bad this isn’t the case.

The actual study which was reported by the Contra Costa Times can be found here.

Sources:
East Bay Daily News – Study: “High school, college learning divide continues”

Contra Costa Times – “High school instruction, college needs unmatched”

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

S.T. Writing– Just What Are They Looking For?

It sounds as though the MEAP test is getting increasingly challenging each year. According to a report in the Detroit News, the writing scores on the MEAP have dropped between the ’05 and ’06 testing sessions. In addition to this drop, writing scores were already much lower than scores on the math and reading tests. The question as to why the writing scores are increasingly poor cause us to wonder what teachers and students are doing wrong.

“Of all the things we teach, I believe writing is the most complex,” said Paula Wood, dean of the College of Education at Wayne State University. “Writing requires students to process what they’ve learned and formulate it in their own words, a difficult task for some students.”

Teachers may be having a difficult time organizing how to teach young individuals how to write, but I believe organization and structure may be the best way to prepare an individual for the test (after all, students do earn money from passing the MEAP!) The writing section of the MEAP includes an array of emphases:

“On the writing portion of the MEAP, students answer multiple-choice questions and provide their own writing samples. They are graded on spelling, punctuation and grammar, and for how well they maintain and support themes.”

Seemingly, teaching writing can be much more difficult that teaching any other subject. It doesn’t simply include a delivery of information to the student. The student must learn how to organize his thoughts in a constructive manner, and then transfer those thoughts onto a piece of paper while simultaneously learning to perfect grammatical and syntactical basics. Anne Gere, an English professor at U-M, touches also on the subject of students being unable to create an essay which shows any originality.

“‘If you’re going to teach writing well you have to teach writing often,’ said Gere, the U-M professor.
Gere said students are flooding college classrooms, including U-M, ill prepared to make but the simplest five-paragraph argument in print. ‘If you ask them to do any more than that, they are stumped,’ she said. ‘And these are the best and brightest in the state.’”

I was taught that when taking a standardized writing test, the most important aspects included form, grammar and syntax. Now, I read about Gere complaints which are based on the fact that students are failing to show originality on these tests, and she encourages them to break away from the standard five-paragraph essay. It is difficult to standardize writing tests, and it seems as though the rules are constantly changing. It seems as though students are taking chances whenever they take a standardized writing test. Some graders use rubrics, while others read more casually searching for originality. Students sure have to have it all today!

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March 1, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Placement Based on Standardized Performances and Race

According to a study reported in the Detroit News Washington Bureau, nearly 18 percent of seniors had taken (at least) one AP exam in 2006. However, the number of African American students which comprised this percentage is mere 4.5 percent. The issues concerning why the African American population comprises such a small amount of the AP test taking population relate to the tracking issue discussed in Linda Christensen’s publication concerning Untracking English.

Christensen discusses the achievement gap found between lower-class students and higher-class students. Tracking is supposed to create a “legitimate hierarchy” determining the intelligence between students in schools and “placing” them in the proper classes. It seems, however, that tracking is the opposite of the idea which No Child Left Behind has. So should we be sticking with the tracking system, or should we be trying to untrack schools? A large consideration surrounding the answer to this issue revolves around the confidence issues each option creates for students. The positives surrounding tracking include access for students to participate in college preparatory and AP classes, therefore creating a feeling of pride and success because these students feel they have “earned” their place.

“As my student Ellie said when I discussed untracking with her tracked class, ‘We couldn’t learn if those students were in our class’” (Christensen 173).

The negatives include the confidence issues surrounding students who do no qualify for these classes (often based on race, class, and gender) ultimately causing these students to lose interest and confidence in academic situations.

“But I wonder what other messages students learn when they see majority white or wealthy students in advanced classes. Do they believe that those students are smarter then students of color or poor and working-class students? …we unwittingly allow student to walk away with these and who know what other assumptions” (Christensen 171).

By untracking the education system, would we have to say goodbye to advanced courses so that nobody’s feelings get hurt? After all, “providing such courses is expensive, including special training for teachers, and already the state’s fiscal crisis could lead to cuts in public school education” (DNWB). Has NCLB improved the percentage of minority students taking and passing AP tests? In the statistics provided by the Detroit News Washington Bureau, African American’s made up 3.8 percent of AP test takers in 2000, whereas in 2006 the percentage grew to 4.6 percent. It might just be my cynical personality coming out here, but those numbers aren’t very impressive based on a 6 year stretch of time. It looks like plenty children are still being left behind, but I guess I’ll give it another 6 years. It won’t be easy, but the education system needs to make some changes concerning the tracking system. We need to begin untracking or try developing a system that makes tracking fairer for unprivileged students. Suggestions have been made concerning methods of motivating (in particular) African American students:

“Florida and Texas have trained more African Americans to teach AP courses, which in turn attracts more African American students into AP classes.”

If we continue to find ways to encourage students to identify with their instructors, it might help with the confidence issue which tracking creates among many students. We might be able to find a way to motivate the students, but in some communities, that is not good enough. Many Michigan schools don’t offer AP classes, which is why parents need to start getting involved.

“Professor Percy Bates, an education professor at University of Michigan who focuses on ending race and gender disparities, said African American students aren’t as likely to have AP classes at their schools and often suffer from low expectations. He says African American parents need to demand that the high schools their children attend offer AP classes. ‘If I had to pinpoint the primary reason, it would be that many of these students are simply not encouraged to take AP classes,’ Bates said.”

Everything in the education system is based on something which is standardized. Standardized tests put standardized students into standardized classes, ultimately shaping them into masses of standard people. I’m not saying that placement classes should be eliminated, but why do the rules for taking these classes always have to be so strict? A student who has had bad grades or a bad reputation in the past should not be denied the opportunity to take an AP class. Nothing will shoot down a student’s motivation more than inequality and discrimination based on reputation or social standing. Advanced placement classes are an asset to the education system, but nobody should be refused from or forced to take them.

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Extra Sources

Christensen, Linda. Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. Untracking English: Creating Quality Education For All Students. Rethinking Schools Ltd. 2000.

March 1, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teaching like Socrates: A Little History behind S.T.

The biggest problem with standardized testing is that it’s completely product based. There is only one answer to every question. A question that has multiple interpretations or answers does not exist in the limited world of standardized testing. Preparing a student for these tests limits his creativity, and sends the message that he doesn’t need creativity to be successful in life. It feels like society is turning schools into little factories (grade schools) which spits students out into big factories (universities) and ultimately creates millions of clones who think and act the exact same way.

I’m not implying that every aspect of school is product-based. We have all had rare classes where we were able to express ourselves through discussion. We have all had classes that didn’t require us to make and learn hundreds of flashcards. In my experience, it was the experience-based classroom settings which really stuck with me throughout the subsequent years of school.

While surfing through dozens of articles related to different aspects of standardized testing, I came across one from the Washington Post which addressed current teaching methods with the ones first developed by Socrates in ancient Greece. I didn’t even know Socrates was a teacher. Today, he would probably frown upon the current use of standardized testing. It turns out that his teaching methods have had a great deal of impact on the way students have been taught throughout history. For Socrates, the ideal teaching process was dialogue based, rather then product based.

“In ancient times, Socrates tested his students through conversations. Answers were not scored as right or wrong. They just led to more dialogue. Many intellectual elites in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. cared more about finding the path to higher knowledge than producing a correct response. To them, accuracy was for shopkeepers… Critics say standardized testing has robbed schools of the creative clash of intellects that make Plato’s dialogues still absorbing. “There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn’t be doing at all,” said educational psychologist Gerald W. Bracey, research columnist for the Phi Delta Kappan education journal. “

Standardized testing began with simple essay exams, which were often sufficient until the 20th century arrived. However, test distributors began looking for shortcuts in order to test in more sufficiently in different areas. Therefore in 1914 the first multiple choice tests arrived. Testers claimed that multiple choice tests evaluate individuals on their rate of learning rather then immediate knowledge. However, I think it is simply an opportunity for testers to evaluate individuals in a quicker fashion. Technology is rapidly making the nation increasingly lazy.

“Historians call the rise of testing an inevitable outgrowth of expanding technology. As goods and services are delivered with greater speed and in higher quantity and quality, education has been forced to pick up the pace.”

When thinking about the purpose of standardized testing, I often find myself wondering exactly when surface knowledge became more important then depth. I found that the SAT became the first big standardized test in the 1940s, and it has stuck with society ever sense, and even caused school districts to develop an array of standardized tests which students are now required to take.

“Many educators who value depth and rigor lament what followed. In 1926, the multiple-choice SAT was introduced as a much faster way of testing college applicants. On Dec. 7, 1941, several members of the board, during a previously scheduled lunch, decided that the outbreak of world war would require faster decisions and less leisurely testing. They eventually canceled the board’s old exam format. The SAT ruled.

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February 1, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The (few) Benefits of Standardized Testing

If you have read my blog this far you’ll know that I am against standardized testing. However, every student has to take a few standardized tests at some point, and in some aspects, these tests can be very beneficial to students. While the ACT and SAT often earn students some very useful scholarships which can help them pay for a college which they normally would not be able to afford. The MEAP (in my opinion) is a much easier test. Students who pass the test were given up to $2,500 from the state of Michigan which could be used towards in-state college tuition. However, funding for the MEAP has been cut and is slowly being phased out. The three big tests for Michiganders include the MEAP, ACT and SAT. In my experience, the MEAP earned some money to help pay for my college. Because of this, it was the only test of the three which I found to be of any use. The ACT and SAT felt as though they were a waste of my money, but I needed the scores to get accepted into college. Which test is more useful? Which test is more difficult? According to an article found at Review Journal the SAT is a more difficult test, but it is also less often required then the ACT.

“The difference between what is being tested is often explained as, the SAT measures a students reasoning and aptitude whereas the ACT focuses more on the high school curriculum. ‘I recommend both because even though they test similar things some students do better on one than the other,’ Gilbert said. Most admissions offices take the higher score if the student has taken an exam multiple times. As for which is easiest, Gilbert said it depends on the individual. ‘Although the ACT has a science section, I still felt it was easier,’ said Las Vegas High senior Suzy Benito who has taken both the SAT and the ACT. There are differences in the way each test is set up. The SAT has no science reasoning portion whereas the ACT does. As the first admissions test, the SAT has been the most widely used test preferred by schools on the East and West coasts and the ACT was mainly required in the Midwest and southern states. However, now more and more colleges and universities are accepting either test, some requiring both.”

Money and financial benefits aside, the claim that these standardized tests are good interpreters of college accomplishment puzzles me. Analyzing scores on verbal sections of standardized tests seems as though it might not be a very accurate predictor of whether or not the student has decent verbal skills. What could be better way to test a student’s verbal skills then require him to write an essay?

“Often students have no idea what to expect or what the differences are between the two [ACT and SAT]. ‘Both are predictors of college success and rely heavily on math and verbal skills,’ said Las Vegas High School counselor John Gilbert. “The differences are more in the areas of the formatting and scoring system.”

Most of my college courses (especially those which pertain to my major) are discussion based courses. Memorization is a very small ingredient found within my courses because the basis of my studies regards interpretation.

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February 1, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Standardized Testing: A Little Too Standard?

Greetings to all of my English 310 cohorts! I am currently a sophomore here at good old GVSU. I am an English major/Spanish minor. I love writing, so am really looking forward to giving this blog-thing a try. I have never kept a blog for one of my classes before, and I am pretty psyched about trying it out now.

Throughout my experience on the “student side” of secondary education, I have been privileged with wonderful English teachers. I enjoyed the remarkable literature which was continuously introduced to me, and I even enjoyed (on occasion) my few composition classes. However, a chunk of very “generic” lessons always seemed to stick out to me, and not in a positive way. It was not until senior year when my instructor told the class that English teachers in our school were required to teach certain lessons which pertained directly to the MEAP test. Apparently, a large part of the school’s reputation relied on the average score of the students.

I believed that the diversity among teachers throughout the secondary schooling system was an important attribute to creating uniquely dissimilar students in colleges. However, when my instructors began jamming this generic material into my head, school seemed to become one giant flashcard. Although I was able to obtain a scholarship through the MEAP test (along with almost everyone else), and my ACT score helped with my acceptance into college, I failed to realize the importance of the information found on these tests. How can schools measure an individual student’s intelligence using a single set of generic questions? In my opinion, the education system is sending a message to young adults that they are inadequate or not college bound because of a low score on a standardized test.

I am interested in further researching the many aspects of standardized testing. Using the articles found throughout Google Reader, I hope to discover more about the methods and purpose behind standardized testing. I also hope to research the advantages/disadvantages standardized testing has on students. Many students are horrible test takers even though their IQ and class performance might demonstrate otherwise. Because a percentage of student populations do not have adequate test taking skills, they are forced to suffer the repercussions a poor score often entails. I want to research whether or not it is ethical to use only one testing method throughout America. Hopefully, I will be able to dig up enough information to elaborate on this topic throughout the semester!

January 16, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 35 Comments

Oink, Oink: Schools and Nutrition

“Super Size Me” is a documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock, in which he embarks on a 30 day trial where he eats nothing but McDonalds. Obviously, this is an incredibly unhealthy experiment. But Morgan tries it anyway (just to prove that eating McDonalds three times each day actually is bad). While suffering from an array of medical problems near the end of his 30 day McDiet, we find that Spurlock had given himself liver damage due to the drastic change in his cholesterol. Spurlock does his homework regarding the facts of obesity in America, and proves his point well. Some of his findings were controversial due to his extremely healthy lifestyle before the McDiet. Some of the problems with Morgan’s documentary (along with other information) can be found at this blog.

What I found most interesting about Spurlock’s documentary included the research he conducted regarding nutrition concerns in school cafeterias. Spurlock visited a high school cafeteria to study what the students would eat on a typical day (if they hadn’t brought their own lunch).

“A girl comes to the cash register and pays for her little Debbie cake, a Swiss roll to be exact. Now in case you didn’t catch it we are in a school cafeteria here. The girl walks toward a table after paying and Morgan Spurlock asks the cashier if that was all the girl was eating today. The lunch lady actually says, “oh she brought in something else” Morgan asks her how she knows and who is in charge of making sure she does have something else and the lunch lady then refers him to the boss, naturally. He follows the student back to the table to find that she did bring something else, a can of coke.”

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Morgan also enlightened us with information concerning a cafeteria in a school which contained students who were kicked out of their previous school for mischievous behavior. In this particular school, the students were served only healthy foods and beverages, which kept the students calmer and more responsive throughout the day. This particular school had fewer incidents than the original public school.

My high school stopped selling soda about three months after Morgan Spurlock’s movie was released in the U.S. I don’t know whether the two occurrences were somehow linked, but it sure seemed as though schools were going on a health kick. However, the individual who made the arrangements for our school’s new-and-improved health fling never really thought it through. Though they stopped selling soda, they continued to sell beverages such as minute maid lemonade and fruit juice (drinks which often contain more sugar than soda).

Spurlock’s documentary definitely sent out a positive message regarding the danger of cafeteria food found within schools, but schools are still doing little to fix the problem. I was always confused as to why my school bothered to make such a small and useless attempt at keeping students healthier. Instead of removing the bliss of an ice cold Diet Coke from students (especially from me), they could have instructed the cooks to disperse fries in serving sizes rather than gigantic heaps. Perhaps vegetables could have been an option to students. Producing fresh veggies every day is obviously more expensive then the bulk processed foods stored in the freezer, but my school paid a great deal of money for the sports teams’ equipment and activities. It’s just too bad they “couldn’t afford” to keep the athletes from getting chubby during the off-seasons.
So why not serve healthier foods in school cafeterias? Many excuses are offered for this concern, but in my opinion, few seem relevant. The assistant principal of Salinas High School offers his input in an article from The Herald.

” they won’t eat it, so why not offer them what they will eat?” says North Salinas High assistant principal August Caresani. “If our kids didn’t like our food, they wouldn’t eat it – they’re high schoolers.”

Another excuse voiced from Salinas high school in The Herald argues that if schools don’t serve their students unhealthy foods, they won’t eat at all, and junk food is better then no food, right?

”‘I know what they should be eating, but you can’t make them eat right,’ says Kathy Dearing, food service manager for Salinas Union High School District and a registered dietician. ‘Eating habits come from home and you can’t change them in a 20-minute lunch period. So we have to offer them choices that they will accept. And anything they can get at fast food, they’ll buy here.’”

Personally, I think all cafeterias should serve healthy food to their students. It would be a great way to influence healthy eating habits (don’t people attend school to learn anyway?) and routines. In time, students probably wouldn’t even miss the mid morning ding-dongs and cheesy fries.

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November 30, -0001 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment