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Re: [xmca] functions of testing

Jenna-- I was about to beg for mercy for jumping late into several
intertwined threads and figure perhaps the mercy extended to you
(for sending a very useful and thoughtful note that requires no mercy!)
might extend to me, who has no excuses except dementia, an
excuse I do not wish to evoke.

Between the hailstorm of messages starting with play in kindergarten through
bakhtin, binaries, testing, etc I was forwarded the following
link to a David Brooks article that would appear to be right up the alley
for Massachusetts MCAS test makers.


I hope that this adds to the growing chorus of discussion and does not
simply throw a knot into it.

On Sun, May 10, 2009 at 2:13 PM, Jenna McWilliams <jennamcjenna@gmail.com>wrote:

> Hey, all--
> This is my first weigh-in on XMCA, and as a pre-emptive caveat: I'm an
> educational researcher inside of a media studies program who will begin
> doctoral study in Learning Sciences at Indiana University in the fall. I'm
> new to the field, is what I'm saying, so please be kind to me.
> In Massachusetts, where I live and work, there's a revived push to
> integrate so-called "21st century skills" into the MCAS, the standardized
> test that all public school students have to take in order to graduate.
> Those who oppose this effort--including the main newspaper here, the Boston
> Globe--worry that 21st century skills are too subjective to measure via
> standardized tests. So far, so good, right? Except implicit in this argument
> is that standardized tests are somehow "objective" in their current design.
> Add to this the fear that testing 21st c. skills will lead to a drop in MCAS
> scores, and we have a major problem on our hands.
> Here's a clip of  a recent op-ed about this in the Globe (http://
> www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/editorials/articles/
> 2009/05/04/21st_century_skeptics/):
> "Massachusetts stands apart in public education precisely because it
> created high academic standards, developed an objective measure of student
> performance and progress through the MCAS test, and required a passing grade
> in order to graduate. Students, as a result, rank at or near the top of
> standardized testing not just nationally but on tough international
> achievement tests in math and science. Any retreat from this strategy would
> be a profound mistake.... [I]t is unclear why MCAS test makers and graders
> would concern themselves with work that is more appropriately reflected in a
> student's report card and cannot be measured by a quick, diagnostic test.
> MCAS testers should concentrate on accurately measuring math ability and
> reading comprehension, which surely correlate with a student's success in
> the workplace."
> So to summarize: Massachusetts students are among the top in the nation
> because their achievement on standardized tests prepares them to...score
> well on standardized tests. It's like the iconic example of circular
> reasoning: The MCAS is useful because it prepares them for future learning.
> How do you know? Because Massachusetts students do well on other
> standardized tests. What prepares them to do well on those tests? Doing well
> on standardized tests, of course.
> Then the other thing is that it's such a weird argument to make, that
> literacy practices like reading, writing, and doing math can be somehow
> isolated from the 21st-century contexts that make them meaningful. It's like
> asking someone if she knows how to tie her shoe, then making her prove it by
> writing a five-paragraph essay explaining how to do it. It's like asking
> someone to prove he can build a fire: But is the fire for warmth, for
> signaling for help, or for burning the whole house down?
> Ok ok ok, thanks for listening.
> jenna
> --
> Jenna McWilliams
> Curriculum Specialist
> Project New Media Literacies
> MIT Comparative Media Studies
> http://newmedialiteracies.org
> http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com
> On May 10, 2009, at 4:53 PM, Dale Cyphert wrote:
>  Jay,
>> Yes!
>> I've long been interested in the "g" factor in intelligence tests; the
>> notion is that when they try to control for all the appropriate variables
>> (age, education, economic status, language, etc.) there still seems to be an
>> unexplained factor.  My sense has always been that it really measures
>> competence with the Western rhetorical norms that are necessarily built into
>> the tests.
>> The direct tests of literacy have always shown a bias, as well, for the
>> norms of middle class behavior. Even with attempts to make the tests culture
>> neutral, there are underlying assumptions that shape the goals and thus the
>> outcomes.
>> Having jumped through all the hoops to get a doctorate, there is no
>> question at all that I've been socialized into an institution that houses
>> (and thereby controls) the "intellectual" capital of Western culture.  As
>> faculty in a business college, I probably have a better view than many of
>> the complicated relationships between academia, political interests, and the
>> business community, and the degree to which my current "tests" --grant
>> writing, promotion and tenure binders, and so on-- must serve the interests
>> of those with the power and money in order to GET either power or money.
>> Whether it's an unrealized bias of rhetorical norms, an intentional,
>> perhaps even well-meaning, attempt to locate the "best" of a culture, or
>>  even the residual tricks of a conspiratorial Illuminati, the result is that
>> we are all tested TOWARD something.
>> dale
>> Dale Cyphert, PhD
>> Associate Professor and Interim Head
>> Department of Management
>> University of Northern Iowa
>> 1227 W. 27th Street
>> Cedar Falls, IA 50614-1025
>> 319-273-6150
>> dale.cyphert@uni.edu
>> Jay Lemke wrote:
>>> As long ago I used to do quite regularly, I'm updating the subject line
>>> of this thread again. Maybe it will continue and maybe not.
>>> But I was fascinated by Valerie's reference to Bucky Fuller and the
>>> thesis that elaborate testing, and by extension (or inclusion) the emphasis
>>> on being able to write the "right sort" of essays and other genres in
>>> academia and so many specialized fields can also serve the function of
>>> managing and controlling, dividing and conquering, really bright people.
>>> There are after all two sorts of principal threats to the ruling class.
>>> One is the great mass of working people who can stop, strike, rebel, etc.
>>> And we know of course a lot about the mechanisms of control, from hegemony
>>> to mystification, ideology, policing, etc. used in this case. But the other
>>> are the specialist elites, who are often given enough to make us feel we're
>>> doing "ok" under their system, though nowhere near what the ruling class
>>> appropriate for themselves. We are co-opted, bought out rather cheaply (by
>>> their standards), and very occasionally even promoted to positions of real
>>> power. But there must also be much less visible strategies at work, and I
>>> think that the system of academic (and later, professional, career) rewards
>>> is one of them. An illusion of local-scale meritocracy under the much bigger
>>> system of social injustice and maintenance of status quo power.
>>> And in some ways, I think, testing, even the best testing we can imagine
>>> (like my Gold Standard proposal yesterday) is a key means of this system of
>>> control. Those of us who do well on tests are even more likely to believe
>>> that this reflects our merit, our talent, our hard work -- even when maybe
>>> we doubt that those who do poorly do so because of a lack of these
>>> qualities. If the children of the oppressed do poorly for reasons having
>>> little to do with their innate talents or potential efforts, then should we
>>> not also reason that we do well for reasons equally unobvious, equally not
>>> to be attributed solely to us as individuals?
>>> We do well insofar as we are pre-tuned, pre-adapted to the needs that
>>> determine what is tested for and what is valued. Not our needs generally,
>>> nor those of the mass of people. We are selected because we are potentially
>>> useful to people who pay us, who fund us, who fund our institutions, who pay
>>> our policymakers. In some cases we fit with new needs, in some cases the
>>> traditions that define our usefulness are very old and represent
>>> long-unchanged aspects of the larger political economy and social system. I
>>> think an interesting history of testing could be written from such a point
>>> of view. Has it been?
>>> Valerie also noted the ways in which testing implements the
>>> divide-and-conquer strategy with respect to useful specialists. As a
>>> relatively small group numerically, with much less social diversity overall
>>> than the whole mass of the population, we ought to be able to more easily
>>> organize and unite, but we don't. We do well on very different measures of
>>> our usefulness, most obviously, say, between humanist scholars and
>>> scientists, and while one could point to much larger patterns of activity
>>> and discourse that split us apart, our modes of testing or of judging the
>>> value of work and productivity are still quite good guides to the history of
>>> how we have been "managed". No?
>>> JAY.
>>> Jay Lemke
>>> Professor
>>> Educational Studies
>>> University of Michigan
>>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke <http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke>
>>> On May 10, 2009, at 11:42 AM, Valerie Wilkinson wrote:
>>>> Referring to some of the threads:
>>>> "Why don't people talk about wisdom anymore?" is definitely a rhetorical
>>>> question that makes the tacit assumption that they/we don't.  But wisdom,
>>>> like love, is abstract until informed by examples.
>>>> I could ask the question, "Why do we shun the Platonic ideal?"  I fear
>>>> it wouldn't kick off much of a conversation.  But is the idea of "organic"
>>>> learning any more informative?  It is strictly environmental, but the
>>>> environment may include religious education and symbolic organizational
>>>> practices which support the dominant paradigm or the people who make the
>>>> rules or the people who watch out for everyone's safety.
>>>> David Kellogg said: "Here are some countervailing facts to consider,
>>>> before we leap to conclusions about the malign effects of Confucianism
>>>> (which, like most truly ancient cultural traditions, has an irrepressibly
>>>> creative and humanist core) on dysfunctional American education." YES! and
>>>> well, uh - it works if you can play the game - and there is always a
>>>> dialectic going with Taoism somewhere.
>>>> It is so hard to get outside of a system you are in. And if you are in
>>>> international academia, you are  committed to a system in some guise that
>>>> employs you or publishes your papers or creates the forum where you may
>>>> share your ideas.  To get talking points in that system you have to be able
>>>> to talk to the talk.   To talk the talk, it is best, but not requisite, to
>>>> have grown up in the system.
>>>> Much of what we are talking about has been talked over in various fora -
>>>> from IQ and differentiated intelligence to language and manners and then the
>>>> whole cultural marginalizing process that forces some to accept a role which
>>>> "native intelligence" could easily overcome  - since experiential learning
>>>> toward mastery is ascendant - except for the weights and burdens of various
>>>> kinds laden upon the underprivileged by various social mechanisms, some of
>>>> which are designed to do just that, weigh them down, keep them oppressed.
>>>> If "we" locate and export the gifted (alpha) to another level and focus
>>>> the lowered tiered learning towards acceptance, satisfaction with a
>>>> guarantee of "enough" - many gifted people (of the other intelligences
>>>> besides articulated declarative knowledge) will spend the rest of their
>>>> lives struggling to make ends meet, to pay their mortgages, take care of
>>>> their kids ---
>>>> Interestingly, Bucky Fuller described the purpose of the elaborate
>>>> written testing system, the complex poetry and memorization of classical
>>>> texts to "manage" the more gifted in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
>>>>  Since the "pirate captains" vanished (but did they?) there isn't any proof
>>>> of his wonderfully provocative claims, but I'm pretty sure that the demand
>>>> for "specialization" is one of the great causes of failure to communicate
>>>> from group to group. It's crippling to have jargon barriers.
>>>> This note may seem to have gotten off the track of learning in
>>>> kindergarten and the whole thing - but I believe that radical return to
>>>> experiential learning from breast to bicycle to doing stuff with your
>>>> friends will ground much learning experience. Of course we have to keep up
>>>> with the books and specialize - but we have to do the other as well or more,
>>>> or more in the beginning and always some - because experiential learning is
>>>> integrative and inclusive.
>>>> (was this a rant?)
>>>> Valerie Wilkinson
>>>> On 2009.May.7, at 12:41  AM, Jay Lemke wrote:
>>>>  I think that we mostly agree, Eugene, given different emphasis because
>>>>> of our different backgrounds.
>>>>> I did think it was interesting that you noted that in totalitarian
>>>>> discourses the leakage across a binary division can be made to undermine
>>>>> basic moral principles. I suppose that there are times when one needs a way
>>>>> to undermine other people's, and maybe also one's own, moral certainties.
>>>>> But clearly doing so can also be very destructive, depending on the
>>>>> circumstances and the consequences.
>>>>> So we have to tack between stronger binaries and weaker ones, and that
>>>>> takes a measure of wisdom. Why don't people talk about wisdom any > more?
>>>>> As to the defense of science, of course it depends on what we want to
>>>>> mean by science or scientific. If it is just systematically gathered
>>>>> empirical information, then I think we always have to take it into account,
>>>>> but not necessarily be ruled by it. Realities exist, but they can also
>>>>> change and be changed. If it means some particular way of doing research,
>>>>> then I am less favorable, and more Feyerabendian. If it means honestly
>>>>> trying to examine alternative interpretations and proposals, then count me
>>>>> in! If it is defending a particular current scientific theory, say
>>>>> neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, then I have to look carefully at a wide
>>>>> range of circumstances to make my choice.
>>>>> "Complex process of mutually informing" sounds just right to me!
>>>>> JAY.
>>>>> Jay Lemke
>>>>> Professor
>>>>> Educational Studies
>>>>> University of Michigan
>>>>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>>>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke <http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke>
>>>>>  _______________________________________________
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