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Real Stories

                From Real Educators

Testing: How far is the moon from the Earth?

As we approach our mid year state assessments, I am reminded of a blog post I wrote 11 years ago around this same time. I think it's still relevant today:

“Today, a colleague whom I have come to regard very highly told me a story. They spoke of a friend who, upon interviewing for a position in a NY District Attorney’s Office, was asked the question, “How far is the moon from the Earth?*”

What skill would an aspiring assistant district attorney need to answer this question?

Those of you who know me are well aware of my feelings toward the NYS REGENTS exams. The best argument I have heard defending the test is that it's not a test of content but of basic skills.

With this in mind I entertained the idea that I may be wrong. So I now look at the test as one of basic skills. Skills our students will need to be successful. This past year, on the Global History exam, students were asked to analyze a political cartoon depicting the cultural reform of Peter the Great. Is it more likely for our students to be asked to analyze a political cartoon or to create and edit a video using iMovie? Is the skill of writing a thematic essay more highly regarded in our society or are creations like collaborative reports in Google Docs a more valuable asset to have? Should students be able to explain the difference between relative and exact location or should we teach them how to use "Google Earth,"or program a SmartWatch?

Having a test of skills isn't a bad idea, but our current exam system might be obsolete, giving false hope to those who "do well" and discouraging our future leaders with low standardized test grades.

I overheard a teacher comment, “They make these tests easier and easier, but the kids keep getting dumber and dumber.” Is this true? Or are the skills being tested further and further from those valued by our students and society?

*The answer the interviewers for the assistant district attorney’s position were looking for wasn’t, “Gosh I don’t know.” It was, “Can you give me a minute?”, as they pulled out their Blackberry (which teachers confiscate upon entry into exams).

Walter has been in public education for 22 years as a classroom teacher, team leader, lead teacher, and currently as an AP at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. He has been invited to speak at the Tech Forum NY "Fostering Innovation at the School and District Level” 2015 ; BREC “How to Implement an Effective Team Approach to Teaching” 2009; Adelphi University “Urban Education Conference” 2007. He currently sits on the board of the (Nassau County HS AP association.

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