Gary Stager recently suggested that we move away from the phrase “high stakes testing” which he thinks much of the US public loves, and move toward the phrase “constant testing” which is perhaps a better descriptor of the problems the US education system faces. I agree! In fact, I’ve made this comic to highlight this issue. I am not completely opposed to students taking tests (although I’d sure like to see them improved, many of them are just awful), but I am opposed to students losing almost a year’s worth of instructional time during their k-12 experience to take these tests.

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” Henry Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 67 (1966)

Cartoon by Jeff Branzburg

Practising math facts non-stop certainly makes students better at math facts, but one must not forget that one of our goals in math education is to help students improve their mathematical reasoning, and this ALSO requires practice. When you see students’ scores go way up on an assessment that measures their ability to remember math facts, you should also ask, “What have we lost?”

This is one of the most important questions that anyone can ask of a given instructional technique. One should expect that any answer given in response uses multiple metrics to measure the effectiveness of the technique. Imagine, for example, a college that removed end of year exams from their courses (with no other changes). One would expect their course pass rates to increase – and so from the perspective of measurement of learning by course pass rates, they’ve improved. Of course, I doubt the students actually learned more…

The problem with adding computer science to schools is that it would become institutionalized, much like modern mathematics education has. Instead of being an opportunity for exploration outside of the normalized structure of schools, it would become a dry, life-less subject taught in rigid formats.

From Seymour Papert in New Theories for New Learnings via The Daily Papert.:

“Imagine (if you can) that we lived in a world without writing-and, of course, without pencils, pens and books. Then one day, somebody invents writing and the pencil, and people say, “Wow, this would be great for education. Let’s give these things to all the children and teach them to write.” So then somebody else says, “Hey, wait a minute. You can’t just do that. You can’t just give every child a pencil. You’d better start by doing some rigorous experiments on a small scale. So, we’ll ‘put one pencil in a classroom and we’ll see what happens. If great things happen, we’ll put two pencils in a classroom, and if greater things happen, then we’ll put in more…” (Papert, S. 1984.)

‘Nuff said.

The full quote from Socrates is:

“…this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. “ (Dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus, pp. 275).

Is it ironic that you are reading this quote about Socrates on this blog? Seems like the ability to read may dull our individual memories, but that it greatly strengthens the memory of our species.