, Corbin, KY

January 24, 2013

Time to go back to teaching without threats of tests, failure

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

On a crisp, clear fall day in 1985, I was sitting with my class in the library of Virginia Junior High School in Bristol, Va.

That day, the librarian was discussing this psychological test which could be used to determine what types of careers were best suited for your personality.

I was pretty enthusiastic about it, as I really had no direction at the time toward a career.

I held my No. 2 pencil.

I read the various questions.

And I filled in the little bubble answer sheet.

When the results were returned to the students, I had a note on mine to speak with the teacher after class.

At first I was admonished for “cheating” on the test by not taking it and only filling out random bubbles. After insisting I didn’t take the test that way, that I had done it properly, she insisted I retake the test.

So I did — and guess what?

The answers were the same.

Other students who received their results were given a list of a half dozen or more career choices they could pursue.

Both times I took the test I got the same single career choice — farmer.

The teacher and librarian both remarked they had never had a student take that test and only get one career choice.

My parents and I virtually dismissed the findings, because our family had not farmed in generations.

Which ultimately made taking that test a waste of time and resources, as I am obviously not a full-fledged farmer, although I do have about two dozen laying chickens at the house.

As I continued my public education career, I was occasionally forced into a room to take one of those bubble tests.

Most students then treated the test days as an in-school vacation — many times test-takers would fill the answer bubbles with patterns, or mark the bubbles A, B, C, D, D, C, B, A.

True, honest results were likely rarely achieved.

Now here it is, more than two decades later, and public school students now seem to be getting tested every time they turn around.

Many times educators, whether intentionally or not, end up teaching the students to pass the test. If they pass the test, they could get more state funding.

However, with the involvement of state and federal legislators, educational rules get changed — over and over and over. Teachers are forced to spend time learning a new system, instead of focusing on their main, primary objective — to educate students.

I heard several concerns and focus points during a recent school board meeting, and time and time again those speaking referred to a problem with math and reading capabilities of their students.

If upper-level grade students have reading and math issues, how is it they are passed on to the next grade?

I heard in line at the grocery store a cashier talking about a guy she dated only having an eighth-grade education. The bagboys laughed and carried on about it.

On, I found an eighth-grade exit exam for Washington state in 1910. Here are some of the questions listed on that test:

— Name three different ways in which a noun may be used in the nominative case, and three ways in which a noun may be used in the objective case.

— Define the following words and give examples: Primitive word, compound word, vowel, accent and prefix.

— State briefly the causes of the War of 1812; name two engagements (of the war); and two prominent commanders.

— Name the five chief nations of Europe, and give their capitals.

— Name the largest country of Asia, three important cities, and three important products.

— By selling my horse for $156 I gained 8 and 1/3 percent. How much did the horse cost me?

— Find the square root of 95.6484.

These are just samples, and I know I couldn’t answer them all.

I remember some of the tests I took through school. I had a teacher once who gave out the answers to her history tests the day before the test — in order as they appeared on the test — and still at least 25 percent of the students flat-out failed.

It certainly lets me believe the American educational system has, over time, dumbed-down its expected course work.

While it will never happen, ideally the best course of action is to throw the tests out the window. In the movie “Overboard,” Goldie Hawn’s character receives a lecture about testing while the kids she’s there for are covered with poison ivy. When she discovers the kids’ problem, she turns to the teacher. “And you can sit here and smugly lecture me on the importance of tests?” she said. “Tests which exist to pigeonhole children’s potential, a thing which cannot possibly be measured…”

I agree with that. I’d consider myself reasonably intelligent, but sit me in front of an algebra test and I’ll fall to pieces.

It’s time to go back to teaching America’s youth without all the threats of tests and failure. I believe we’d have a much smarter generation if that could be achieved.

I also believe many of our chosen politicians would be forced to seek something else to regulate.

John L. Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at