Madison County Opinion...

APRIL 21, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
April 21, 2004

Frankly Speaking

Season of celebration and remembrance is here
The patriotic season is upon us. Every spring and summer brings about a series of holidays celebrating key events and ideas in our nation’s history. Several of these celebrations involve state or federal holidays.
Patriot’s Day was celebrated in a number of Northeastern cities and states earlier in April. Confederate Memorial Day is April 26. Federal Memorial Day, Independence Day, Armed Forces Day, Labor Day and others will fill our spring and summer.
All these holidays would be a good thing if they achieved the goals for which they were founded. Unfortunately, our modern world of “political correctness” is discounting their importance. Schools no longer teach enough history for students to understand their significance. To most modern Americans, these holidays are nothing more than a chance to take a paid holiday from work and have a party.
Take the two memorial days as an example. Both the Confederate and federal memorial days are designated as times to remember and honor those men and women who sacrificed their bodies, their health and far too often their lives in defense of our liberties. War is a terrible thing. Those soldiers who saw combat in our many wars were often shattered, if not physically, then mentally and emotionally. Even those who survived the battles carried their wounds throughout their lives.
Confederate Memorial Day is all but forgotten. Those brave men who literally lost everything trying to defend their homes from the encroachment of an all-powerful federal government. Current statistics reveal that the outstanding generation of Americans who stopped the evil of Hitler and the other dictators of the mid 20th century are dying at the rate of 1,000 each day. Yet few of the millions of people who will be firing up their grills and chilling the beer for Federal Memorial Day can name any major battle from that era, or the generals who led our forces to victory.
All the beer and barbecue will be hauled out again for the 4th of July.
Again, fewer than one in five Americans can describe the event being celebrated. If you read a passage from the Declaration of Independence to them, they will have no idea where the words came from.
Mention Labor Day and they all head for the store to buy more beer and charcoal. Few of them have any understanding about the struggle of workers to win justice from the “Robber Barons” who gained their great wealth on the broken backs of the “white slaves” who filled their factories in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The season of celebration and remembrance is here. I fear that there will be far too much celebrating and far too little remembering.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net.

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
April 21, 2004

In the Meantime

Standardized test mania is a sickness
Airplanes are known for those ever-so-awful bags designed to catch mid-flight, intestinal yuckiness. But Georgia schools apparently have a similar kind of package for perhaps an equally unnerving ride — the standardized test.
Yes, I’m serious, there is a barf bag that accompanies standardized tests.
Absolutely gross, but true.
My aim isn’t to make you queasy. I do have a broader point to make about our education system.
But this ugly anecdote truly amazes me and strikes me as a symptom of a collective mania in education today.
Get this, kids who get sick on their Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) this week can’t throw those tests away. And neither can their teachers or administrators.
No, those tests must be sealed up in an official “CRCT barf bag” and sent back to the state for inspection. Of course, each child doesn’t get one of these, but schools across the state are actually sent a package that is specifically for this purpose.
I’m sure the technical term for those packages is something more in line with typical “education-speak” — a syllable-happy form of legalese among education hierarchy. In education-speak we get lengthy names tagged with ugly acronyms, so perhaps an appropriate term for our untidy packages would be “the collaborative regurgitorial aptitude assessment (CRAA).”
So what’s the job title of the poor, gloved intern who gets the wonderful task of CRAA inspection?
All ugliness aside, our education system is so wrapped up in the importance of standardized tests that we have lost our grip on common sense — which comes through local control.
Nowadays, teachers and administrators can’t even be trusted to say a kid got sick on the CRCT exam. No, in order to ensure that every test is accounted for and that nobody is cheating the elaborate testing system, the state needs hard, foul proof of such a digestive disaster.
Are these tests that sacred?
Apparently, yes. Standardized tests are now serious, serious business. Consider that this year Madison County third graders, along with third graders across the state, face a potential pass/fail situation for the entire school year based on their performance during the CRCT this week. Those third graders who fail the reading portion of the test must take remedial classes this June, then take the CRCT again. If they fail a second time, a committee, which includes their parents, their reading teacher and their principal will decide whether to retain them.
Thankfully, there’s a committee that includes parents in determining retentions. But no doubt, the CRCT test is a big deal, something a lot of us might have lost sleep over — or gotten sick over — when we were younger.
But the numbers from those tests go beyond the new pass/fail scenario. The standardized tests significantly affect not just students, but teachers, administrators, schools and school systems as well.
For instance, some funding decisions are based on highly suspect tags of “improvement” or “needs improvement” on standardized tests.
Such boldness is rooted in a misguided belief among standardized test enthusiasts — which means those not in a school all day — that the numbers don’t lie.
But is that true?
Think about it, does your IQ level adequately reflect your intelligence? Most of us probably don’t know or care about our IQ level. We base our self assessment on other, more relevant criteria in our lives.
So does a standardized test adequately reflect a student’s overall intelligence? Does one test really quantify the mind of a youngster with accuracy?
As Madison County curriculum director Jane Fitzpatrick points out, there are a number of criteria to consider. For instance, a student can be shaky in multiple choice formats, but quite proficient at essay writing, or vice versa. Or a student can have a bad day, or have their mind on trouble at home, or feel sick, or feel nervous, or feel anything but enthused about many hours of dull test-taking. Does their score on such a test actually measure their overall abilities?
Clearly not. A standardized test may be an indicator of a student’s problem or proficiency, but such a test isn’t the determinant of such, not for one student or for a group of children.
That’s where the problem is. Any teacher could tell you particulars about a child or about a class. The teacher can see the effort or lack thereof, can see a child’s eyes drooping from fatigue and perhaps know the story behind those heavy eyes.
Can a standardized test offer the same insight?
Standardized tests reflect a misguided political culture, where it looks good to say you’re doing something, even if it’s ultimately harmful.
That’s the ultimate message behind “No Child Left Behind” and the constantly evolving “reform” measures of education politics.
When we look at education, we should always look at the homes, the local schools, the local teachers and administrators.
Standardized tests should be a tool for local educators to help make decisions for kids. Instead, those tests have become a distraction for teachers who would like to spend their time focused on what is best for the kids they know and care about.
And such distractions should make us more than a little queasy.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.



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