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A better way to achieve lasting results

Posted By: Jerome Smith on May 24, 2002
Dear Samantha,

Read carefully the solid research available on this site and elsewhere. Often current research is linked at EducationNews.org, which just now linked me to your post.

Rating schools or students by a single "high stakes" test is unsound practice. Individual and school scores for any given test administration cannot be equated to another test administration at a different time. Changes in the composition of the student body, variations in test content, affect school scores. Individual student scores can be adversely affected by conditions at the testing site, as when substitutes must administer the test because the regular teacher took the testing day off, or inexperienced test proctors misinterpreted the test directions. The student may just have a bad day, whether illness, stress, or being scolded during the test by a strange teacher. I have observed all of this first-hand.

Standards may be good, but often miss the mark. Individual skilled teachers can get even "poor" students to far exceed mandatory state standards if the teachers are permitted to teach the students what the students need to know, and if teachers are permitted to teach to their own strengths. The standards movement has led, unfortunately, to "standardization" in the woefully mistaken practice of insisting every teacher teach exactly the same thing on the same day across an entire school district. Such top-down administrative policy, employing pacing charts and artificially prescribed lesson plan formats, is totally misguided, and will cause good teachers to leave the profession, or demoralize them if they stay. The inappropriate lessons and tests place such a burden on students that they drop out of school.

I am professionally involved in the standards and testing movement. I am one of five or six teachers selected statewide in Michigan to set the standards for the state high school writing assessment.

I found a better way to solve the problem of low-achieving schools and students. First, I teach my students how to read well. I wrote my own self-instructional reading program that works for students above age 8 through adult. Second, I stress the values my students must adopt if they are to become personally and academically successful. I developed a weekly "Proverb Application Writing" composition assignment which focuses my students on the values they need for success. I fully document this on my own new website, www.readingsteps.com.

Jerome Smith
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 High-stakes testing and standards by Samantha Murray on April 13, 2002
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