Friday, April 20, 2007


The first thing you learn when you go to college to become a teacher is any test you give should cover the material you've been teaching. In other words, if your students just got done studying Shakespeare, do not give them a test that includes questions about the mating habits of the Asian cockroach (Blattella asahinai).

This may seem like a simple concept, but for some reason Gov. John Baldacci and his education sidekick, Susan Gendron, don't get it. By forcing all high school juniors to take the SAT once again this year, they're repeating widespread, coordinated educational malpractice.

Maine school systems have built their curricula off the Learning Results, a big purple book of standards in reading, writing, math, social studies, science, arts, basket-weaving, and gravel pit partying.

The SAT is not built off those standards. The SAT is built by an out-of-state company called The College Board, which is making a slew of cash off Maine taxpayers despite the fact that they've never heard of The Learning Results. (The College Board is mainly concerned with figuring out who is fit to attend - and pay for - college, which is why their reading questions derive from topics like ballet instead of topics like fly-tying or rap music.)

When Baldacci and Gendron pushed the SAT initiative through a partisan legislature, they assured everyone that the SAT, by pure coincidence, matched the Learning Results perfectly, even though it contains only English and math questions (I guess we no longer need the other subjects).

As it turns out, the federal government says, sorry, no match, and has fined Maine for non-compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act.

Our leaders have decided the best way to measure student learning is to force them to sit under fluorescent lights for three hours in some of the least-comfortable chairs ever invented and plow through volley after volley of questions derived from 1950s pedagogy until their brains turn into cottage cheese.

I have a lot of students who work hard in school, but who will not go to college, either because learning disabilities have held them back or because their vocational interests lie elsewhere (i.e. truck driving, auto repair, video games, drug trafficking). Expose these kids to 20 minutes of SAT material and you get a lot of groans, fidgeting, sleeping, etc. Imagine putting them through three hours of it! The classroom would become either a zoo or a morgue.

Are there benefits to having all high school juniors take the SAT? Sure.

  • Many were going to take it anyway, now they don't have to pay for it.

  • Students can get in touch with their “inner artists” by making some neat designs while they fill in all those bubble sheet ovals.

  • Baldacci gets to manufacture sound bytes about getting all Maine kids ready for college.

The last one is probably the most important. Sound educational practice is not nearly as important as getting re-elected.

No wonder we chose a test that doesn't have any social studies questions.

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