Blog: The Educated Reporter

College remediation and third-grade testing: yes, it’s related.

I should start by saying I have no problem with the idea of testing students and holding people accountable. Sad that I have to assert this, but when you critique anything about standards and accountability in practice you are presumed by some to prefer the status quo, think all children can’t learn, hate minority children, be a moron or something else. But theory and practice are two different things, so let me start.

When my book Tested came out in 2007, I showed how one high-poverty school—like many others I had visited over the years—had narrowed its teaching to specifically what would be on the state test, and what that meant for children. It was often not pretty, even though this school was held up in the media as a success story as its scores climbed. Many critics came back with some form of “Of course they should teach what’s on the test” or “It must be better than what came before.”

I wish these people had seen what I saw: how poorly that test measured these children’s abilities, whether because of teaching to the test, easy scoring, a bad test or all of the above. In the class I watched most closely, third-graders had memorized rote answers to questions teachers suspected, correctly, would be on the test. Some were able to spit those back out, and those who could not—whose teachers cringed as they peeked over shoulders on test-taking day—passed anyway, astonishingly. Children who were deemed proficient were still, at the end of the year, writing incoherently and adding two plus three on their fingers. I feel horrible saying this, but I would be surprised to see many of them make it to, or through, college.

So when I see stories like this one by Holly Hacker in the Dallas Morning News, about how many students take college-prep curriculum and pass TAKS yet need remedial work in community college, I am not surprised. I am only surprised that people still defend tests that you can pass even though you are far from ready for the next level. THIS IS WHAT I MEANT.

It truly is depressing: Only 8 percent of Texas students who needed remediation when they got to their two-year state colleges managed to graduate. Obama’s promise of money to improve tests? Can’t come soon enough. Until then, we are lying to people, really.

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