charlie mitchell

11th commandment: Leave testing to teachers

he number of commandments given to Moses was:

A. Eight.

B. Ten.

C. A dozen.

D. Four commandments, eight suggestions, three tips, two advisories and

a warning.

2. The apostle often known as the rock upon which the Christian church would be built was:

A. Judas.

B. Andrew.

C. Thomas.

D. Peter.

3. Jonah was swallowed by:

A. A whale.

B. A great fish.

C. A shark.

D. Credit card debt.

4. The U.S. Declaration of Independence was issued:

A. July 4, 1776.

B. Oct. 31, 1906.

C. Nov. 11, 1917.

D. Dec. 25, 1962.

5. Commander-in-chief of the colonists’ army when the Revolutionary War concluded was:

A. William Jefferson.

B. Benjamin Madison.

C. Franklin James.

D. George Washington.

6. Thrown overboard from a cargo ship at the Boston Tea Party to protest high taxes was:

A. The captain.

B. The crew.

C. The captain and the crew.

D. Tea.

OK, not to be silly, or at least any sillier than the foregoing quiz, two more questions:

If a person got the correct answers to 1 through 3, would that make the person a Christian? And by getting 4, 5 and 6 right, would a person understand why and how America came to be?

“Of course not” is the correct response to both. What it means to be a Christian has lots of definitions, but fundamental to all of them is a deep, internal faith that doesn’t come from just being able to recite facts from the Bible. (And it was a great fish, not a whale.)

By the same measure, knowing when the Declaration of Independence was signed is not the same as knowing why it was written or how it changed forever the relationship between a people and their government.

My guess is that a lot of educators real educators anyway are glad every time an election is over.

Not only did Al Gore and George W. Bush made America’s schools a focal point of their stump speeches, they both demanded “more testing.”

In fact, in one debate Gore insisted he was more in favor of better schools than Bush because his plan called not only for more standardized tests for students, but also new standardized tests for teachers.

Listening to that, I felt I was back in kindergarten and listening to other kids at recess.

It should be obvious that tests, in and of themselves, have nothing to do with education.

There have been many changes in America’s schools over the past 50 or so years, but the one with the most far-reaching consequences has been the introduction of machine scoring.

The only type of test a machine can score is the so-called “objective” or multiple-choice test. And while it’s certainly possible for multiple-choice questions to probe for a student’s understanding, most do not. They merely ask for facts. Because facts can be memorized, we frequently have teachers handing out “study sheets” of facts for students to “learn” just long enough to regurgitate them on a test.

If the students regurgitate well, then the class and the teacher are deemed to be successful. If they don’t, then the students and their teacher are deemed to be deficient and that might not be true at all.

All of this is at odds with real learning which only takes place when a teacher finds and trips into the “on” position, a student’s curiosity and makes that student want to know and, more than just knowing, to understand.

Last month, the Mississippi Department of Education reported that 131 superintendents who responded to a survey said finding “building administrators,” formerly known as principals, is getting more and more difficult.

This should come as no more of a surprise than the difficulty in keeping good teachers or effective superintendents. No sector in our society faces more officious and counterproductive meddling than public schools.

Everybody is an expert. Everybody has a “new idea.” Some of this is ingrown, with educators becoming so bored by old methods that worked they invent “modern” methods that don’t.

For the future of education, the best thing believe it or not might be for everybody to leave the schools alone. Send money. Expect good results. But leave the details, and when and how to give tests, to those in the trenches.

Charlie Mitchell is managing editor of The Vicksburg Post, P.O. Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182. E-mail reaches him at post@vicksburg .com.