If you test it, they will learn

Students don’t know much about American history, educators and historians told a Senate panel considering national testing in U.S. history. The Boston Globe reports:

National history and civics assessments show that most fourth-graders can’t identify the opening passage of the Declaration of Independence, and that most high school seniors can’t explain the checks-and-balances theory behind the three branches of the US government. Testifying in favor of proposed legislation, the history specialists — including renowned historian David McCullough — told a Senate education subcommittee that most of the country’s schoolchildren lack sufficient knowledge to become informed voters and don’t understand why they enjoy rights like free speech and freedom of religion.

A bipartisan bill would pay for 10 states to test eighth- and 12th-graders in history next year. The pilot test would be run by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which currently tests in history only every 10 years. That would change every four years under the bill.

The most recent NAEP history test in 2001 showed that “just 10 percent of high school seniors had an adequate grasp of important people, events, and concepts in American history, such as identifying America’s allies and enemies during World War II. One-third of fourth- and eighth-graders and nearly two-thirds of high school seniors did not meet a basic threshold of knowledge.”

When Congress reauthorizes the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007, Sen. Ted Kennedy pledges to add U.S. history testing to the requirements for reading, math and science tests.

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Comments

  1. SuperSub says:

    You mean, if we make teachers responsible for certain content… they’ll teach it? Wow.

  2. Help me with my math a little (I’m a teacher, remember, and this is fractions). 2/3’s of 4th and 8th graders know basic American history and only 1/3 of 12 graders know the same. I’m puzzled. Assuming it is the same test (could be a bad assumption), what happened to the other 1/3rd? Did they drop out? Did the commie flouride in the water erase their brains?

    Also, making the American history test a 12th grade requirement is a bad idea. If you put the test at the end of 12th grade, you will ensure that most districts will move their required Am. History course to that year (currently, it is either 10th or 11th) so that the kids are freshly exposed to the material, ie. haven’t had two years to forget it. Since the legal drop-out age is 16 (and kids who drop out tend to do so junior year), you will actually be ensuring that *fewer* students are exposed to any sort of American history curriculum at the high school level. If the idea is to make sure that all students become good citizens, you’re actually working against your goal.

  3. RCC wrote:

    Assuming it is the same test (could be a bad assumption), what happened to the other 1/3rd? Did they drop out?

    I’d assume that the 12th graders got tested across a broader scope and greater depth of subject material then the younger kids. They had an opportunity to be ignorant of a greater range of subject material. That ought to be worth something no matter when the test’s administered.

    Did the commie flouride in the water erase their brains?

    Nope. Us Republicans put the flouride in the water but it was to help improve their eye-sight. Turns out flouride enables one to see that the emperor has no clothes along with a number of other sights that were previously invisible. Led to the Republican revolution of ’94, welfare reform and the NCLB. Pretty proud of that.

    Since the legal drop-out age is 16, you will actually be ensuring that *fewer* students are exposed to any sort of American history curriculum

    “Exposed to”? Is that a deliberate choice of words so as not to excite comments about the likelihood of incipient dropouts learning something about American history just before they depart the system?

    Come on, if they’re going to bail at 16 then American history is not likely to stick with you. On the other hand, if you make passing the test a requirement you highlight not just the kids who aren’t learning the material but the teachers who aren’t teaching it.

  4. I said it could be a bad assumption, Allen. I readily agree that the test could be different. Still, there is that 1/3 that should be capable of learning the material.

    Sometimes exposure is the best you can do. Yes, I chose that word carefully. When that kid is sitting in class stoned (when he/she shows up), that’s about all that’s happening. On the other hand, you never know what’s sticking sometimes and some dropouts actually are really bright kids. And I’ve had kids for more than one year who have surprised me with the stuff they forgot. I know I taught it. I know they knew it at one time, but what happened in the meantime, who knows. Just like I’m sure your English teachers taught you that the first person plural nominative pronoun is “We” and not “Us.” Just like I know I used to know trigonometry. I am not excusing teachers who do not teach in any way, shape, or fashion, but sometimes other things are going on. FWIW, in my state there is a U.S. Government test that one must pass in order to graduate. Most take it in 9th grade. I think the 11th grade state assessment in social studies tests them on a lot of that, too. I’m not sure what new information a third test would tell us. I think kids generally don’t take any sort of history course in 12th grade now that I think of it.

    I’m not against testing. I test all the time to make sure the kids are learning what I’m teaching (and if the scores aren’t good, I re-teach). I teach ACT prep and Advanced Placement, which are about as high stakes as you get at the high school level. Testing has to be done well in order to ensure the best results. If Teddy wants to test kids on U.S. history, more power (and federal tax dollars) to him. But if the goal is to make sure more kids know more U.S. history, then you don’t give the test two years after most kids take the course and when the least number of kids are still in school. I mean, do you see how that’s poor design?

  5. Dee Bates says:

    Ah, but I bet the kids know what it is like to be an Eskimo because they’ve tasted blubber, or Columbus because they worked out a new route from home to school. In his social studies classes, my son was “exposed” to all kinds of stuff like this in place of civics and history. I had to teach him American history, just like I had to teach him phonics after he’d been “exposed” to whole language.

    Good, i.e., knowledgable, teachers are even more important when they must use text books that are so flawed as to be useless, as are most of the American History text books I’ve seen in the last 10 years. Someone ought to point out that a social studies class is not a replacement for history, American or otherwise.

    One of the reasons I read this blog is that I get to read about teachers who actually know something about their subject and *teach* it. To those of you who qualify, I thank you.

  6. RCC wrote:

    Still, there is that 1/3 that should be capable of learning the material.

    Sure they’re capable of learning the material. But the public education system isn’t just about education. It’s also about getting your educational passport stamped. If that’s what you’re after then all learning in school is temporary and subordinated to the goal of getting the grade.

    Among the non-dropouts and the non-stoners there’s a pretty clear understanding that each hurdle in the education system is traversed with the intention of crossing the finish line, i.e. becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. Operating under that assumption, the expenditure of any effort beyond that necessary to get your passport stamped is simply foolish. So the kids you’ve spent a year teaching the importance of the Treaty of Ghent gratefully put all that behind them as soon as they turn in their last test.

    You want to know what the real pisser is? They’re right and you’re wrong.

    Your students realize that education is a trial to be endured, a sentence to be served and they react accordingly making the most of a situation in which they have little importance and no control. And, as you well know, that description is applicable in significant measure to teachers.

    That’s why you see student attitudes and even student behaviour mirrorred in the behavior of teachers. How many teachers are just going throught the motions? How many are just enduring each day against the arrival of the weekend, summer vacation, retirement? How many teachers “drop out”, i.e. quit the profession?

    Sometimes exposure is the best you can do. Yes, I chose that word carefully. When that kid is sitting in class stoned (when he/she shows up), that’s about all that’s happening.

    Except that what you’re trying to do is make the best of a pointless situation that’s forced on both parties, the student as well as the teacher, for reasons which have little, if anything, to do with the expectation that learning will occur. That’s a waste of the students time, a dilution of your skills and no service to society. If you want a question to ponder then see if you can figure out who does benefit from that situation.

  7. LOL. Of course it’s a ridiculous proposal. That’s life in education. Somebody needs to score political points (and the democrats here are clearly trying to hone in on the perceived sucess of the testing provisions of the NCLB), and we teachers end up with some ill-conceived and implemented policy that has absolutely no effect on learning outcomes, but for which we must spend hours in meetings figuring out how to deal with. I’m just trying to minimize the chaos by pointing out — real rocket science here — that you should design plans in such a way as to reach an objective, not undermine it.

    Surely you don’t think I’m so naive as to not know that kids forget stuff after a test. And here’s a REAL pisser — sometimes they don’t even learn it and cheat on the test instead! Or sometimes they squeeze through with D’s, meaning they did not even bother cheating enough to learn 40% of the material! Can you imagine? And I really want to see what magic they come up with on this federal history test that makes the students remember who the Allied powers were during WWII longer than they do after the unit test on the same.

    Honestly, what planet do you think I live on? I am well, and I mean well, aware of the failings of the system.

    As far as those kids who are a “dilution” of my skills — well, maybe my teaching skills. Sure. But I spend untold hours trying to help the “stoners” (that’s not what they’re called anymore, by the way). Sometimes it’s about trying to keep them patched together enough that they can do something with their lives later on. Good or bad, they’re all in my classroom, and I have to do my best with each one of them.

  8. Read some Gatto to find out what’s really wrong with public school.

  9. I’ve read Gatto. He has some valid points and makes some good observations. I don’t think he’s entirely correct, though.

  10. RCC wrote:

    Honestly, what planet do you think I live on?

    The planet where the joy of learning is a worthwhile end in itself and a defensible rationale for mandatory attendance and tax-support.

    On the planet I come from education is seen primarily as an economic proposition. The more education youse gets the money youse makes.

    Viewed in that light, any effort expended by a student beyond that necessary to get the proof of education, the graduation certificate or the diploma, is wasted. That lays the groundwork for the view that any activity that reduces the amount of effort required to get the goods is justified, like cheating.

    And, motivated only by the sheer joy of learning, what’s the phrase du jour for “stoner”?

  11. The joy of learning is a worthwhile end unto itself, but not one that all students subscribe to. Are you criticizing me for understanding and working within the constraints of reality?

    Actually, Allen, you need to get into some schools and meet some real kids or something. Stoners are often the ones who learn for the joy, but check out in subjects in which they are not interested because they don’t want to play the game.

    I’m writing new lesson plans to teach writing skills this week. What are you doing to improve the education of children in your community? Have you run for the school board, yet?

  12. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Getting back to the issue raised here by the article about American history….I’m all for strengthening curricula about American history and heritage, as long as it isn’t the current revisionist bilge that is often being taught (I mean propagandized) in public schools around the nation. History teachers should start educating themselves with the great historian Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People”…it’s like a refreshing and gentle colonic for the mind.

  13. tobytyler11 says:

    My dad required my sister and I to write reports if one of us had not shown enough knowledge about a subject that he thought we should know about. To this day, my sister regrets missing that Trivial Pursuit question about the LA Purchase but she can also tell you more than you could ever possibly want to know on the subject! Recently, my 12 yoa niece asked my father a history question…and, yes, she had a 2 page report due by the weekend. Maybe more parents should try this? I doubt we would have paid as much attention in school if we hadn’t been trying to avoid the possibility of a report on the subject later.

  14. RCC wrote:

    The joy of learning is a worthwhile end unto itself, but not one that all students subscribe to.

    You don’t have to tell that to the guy who, for no other reason then to learn how to do it, taught himself to do freehand dovetailing. You have to tell it to the kids who you expect to learn about the Treaty of Ghent. The one’s who are marched, figuratively, at gun point, into your class every day.

    You’ve got to convince the kids who have no choice in the matter to choose what you’re offering. Does it occur to you that once their volition is proven immaterial their cooperation is liable to be harder, not easier, to obtain?

    Are you criticizing me for understanding and working within the constraints of reality?

    No, I’m criticizing you for not appreciating the point of view of the kids you teach. They have to accept on faith that what you are offering is worth the time they’re required to invest. Your credibility is, unfortunately, undercut by the coercive nature of mandatory attendance. From the kid’s point of view, if what you’re offering is so good then why is it required?

    Stoners are often the ones who learn for the joy, but check out in subjects in which they are not interested because they don’t want to play the game.

    “Play the game”. Interesting choice of phrase, again.

    So you have some cognizance of how the education system is viewed by the kids, or at least one subgroup of kids. Now all you need to do is come to terms with the kids who are willing to play the game, to learn just enough and for just long enough, to get their grade.

    I’m writing new lesson plans to teach writing skills this week.

    Good. Part of your job responsibilities I assume.

    What are you doing to improve the education of children in your community?

    Paying for it? Or do I have some further responsibility?

    Have you run for the school board, yet?

    No, but I did annoy a school board member when I asked him why the board voted to urge parents to opt their kids out of the state education attainment test that measures schoool performance.

  15. Oh no, this is summer, Allen. I’m not working, remember! (I’m glad I’m prepped Joyce last week, though, because it reminded me how much I used to love tea with milk and sugar when I was a kid.) And, btw, what do you do for a living that you can post to blogs all day?

    I fully appreciate the point of view of the kids I teach, and I teach a full range of kids, from who can we bump out of self-contained special ed. to AP. I thought that was what I was explaining, but perhaps not. I do try my best to make connections to their lives (some day you’ll have to send an email to your boss, people, and there will need to be a comma in it!). I also try to get them to enjoy the class. A sense of humor and perspective help a lot as long as they are paired up with a lot of focus and a no-nonsense approach. All kids do not appreciate the same parts of the class, but usually all do enjoy one or two aspects or one particular work of literature (The Inferno and The Stranger tend to be very popular). The set-up of school works against me and some kids in certain ways, and I try to get around that to the best extent possible, but life isn’t always perfect, and if I spent all my energy worrying about stuff I have no control over, I wouldn’t have much left over for who is important.

    In general, if you are going to complain about the educational system, yes, I expect you to do more than pay taxes and annoy school board members (not that they don’t deserve it). I expect you to be involved in the system enough that you understand how it actually works because your posts, while they do display a great deal of knowledge about law suits and media reports, are a little short in the real world knowledge department. Gotta make those real world connections, Allen.

  16. RCC wrote:

    And, btw, what do you do for a living that you can post to blogs all day?

    Programmer but it’s amusing you assume that posting makes much of an impact on my day. Most take less the ten minutes to compose. Occasionally Mike in Texas or ag2828 will make some bland pronouncement that requires some research but generally not.

    I fully appreciate the point of view of the kids I teach,

    Uh, no. Otherwise you wouldn’t be so upset about their take on what you teach. You’d understand that they don’t see school as an exciting opportunity to broaden their horizons but as a reverse prison-release program wherein they slog from one regimented activity to the next until they’re allowed to exit, each evening, to return to the real world.

    In general, if you are going to complain about the educational system, yes, I expect you to do more than pay taxes and annoy school board members

    Yeah, but I don’t really feel the need to, or see the advantage in, living up to your self-serving expectations. Also, I’m unpersauded by your assumed expertise. So far all you’ve displayed is a relatively mundane selection of views popular among public education proponents and that’s not enough to confer authority.

    while they do display a great deal of knowledge about law suits and media reports, are a little short in the real world knowledge department. Gotta make those real world connections, Allen.

    Thanks and try to keep the condescension to a minimum. It gets in the way of making real world connections.

  17. RCC wrote:
    In general, if you are going to complain about the educational system, yes, I expect you to do more than pay taxes

    Generally, when you pay for something you have the right to complain when there’s a problem with it. When you’re forced to pay for something you have a right to complain, regardless.

  18. I’m not upset about my kids’ take on my class. Where do I say that? My expectations aren’t self-serving; they’re kid-serving. I think that when bright people are actively engaged in problem solving, a problem might get solved. I don’t think idle complaining really gets that much accomplished, but ymmv.

    Your complaint is that kids aren’t being taught this material. I say that in most cases they were taught the material, but forgot it. You say that’s a problem with the educational model. I agree, it is a problem and the Teddy test isn’t gonig to solve it, but could instead introduce new problems. Now, we could take this discussion into a discussion of teaching models proven to increase retention of information, which is most likely the actual problem here, but since you don’t accept that I have any expertise in this area, and I know you don’t have any by your own admission, I’m not sure how to continue this discussion in a constructive manner.