Against subjectivism (and for taxonomy)

by on August 9, 2013 at 4:27 am in Education | Permalink

Aristotle Circle, the company that employs Vanessa and was co-founded by Ms Rheault in 2008, sells an ERB preparation workbook with sample test questions in it such as “Apples and oranges are both . . . ”. Children get two points for “fruit”, one for “sweet things I eat” and none for “yummy”.

The bulk of its business is providing tutors at $350 an hour, who prepare children for the tests, and admissions experts for parents desperate for information. But demand for play date instruction is increasing.

That is to help get your children into the best private schools.  There is more here.

Steve Sailer August 9, 2013 at 4:31 am

I’ve been pointing out for seven years that it’s ironic that Manhattan’s media elite have long condemned IQ testing as meaningless and discredited, while almost universally subjecting their own four year olds (!) to the Wechsler IQ test:

http://www.amconmag.com/articles/americans-first/

Andrew' August 9, 2013 at 6:26 am

Not only is IQ a thing, we now know it is worth $350 per hour!

Tracy W August 9, 2013 at 8:36 am

The sample ERB test question provides some support for the meaningless and discredited position however.

Vernunft August 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm

How?

Dre August 10, 2013 at 1:17 pm

None of the given answers are false, but they’re scored differently. Which has to be rule #1 for bad test design. Not only that but the “fanciest” one is scored highest. So if this were representative of IQ tests broadly, it would support the argument that they mostly test for socio-economic status (or maybe prospective SES).

Tom (not that one) August 9, 2013 at 5:35 am

For those of us overseas, this is part of “The culture that is the USA”

mike August 9, 2013 at 7:14 am

Overseas but not in Asia, apparently.

Slocum August 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

For those of us overseas, this is part of “The culture that is the USA”

This looks as crazy to most of us in the U.S. as it does to you. To us, this is ‘The culture that is New York’ or maybe ‘The culture that is the Northeast’. Very few Americans send their children to private preschools with high-stakes admission tests or to prep schools or to the Ivy League…or even live in areas where the wealthy do these things.

Turkey Vulture August 9, 2013 at 7:41 am

I’m happy that when I was a kid I got to go play outside.

RPLong August 9, 2013 at 7:57 am

I disagree that this replaces subjectivism with taxonomy. Identities aren’t subjective.

That said, it strikes me that this approach will disproportionately reward children on the autism spectrum. That might be good for a change, but obviously bad as a long-term strategy.

Marie August 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

I don’t understand how people this stupid can have this much money. Maybe they are borrowing it.

Jay August 9, 2013 at 8:20 am

Funny thing is you can go over to HuffPo and realize how many grown adults would still answer the question “yummy”.

Andrew' August 9, 2013 at 9:29 am

The kid should respond with “what type of answer do YOU want?”

Brian Donohue August 9, 2013 at 8:40 am

d) All of the above?

Eric s August 9, 2013 at 9:16 am

Play date services is code for acting like a PC robot. Still, this article is very useful information for these parents. Now you know to not allow your children to ever watch television or use the Internet. Heaven forbid they say the word princess or Batman during this play date, like the fool child who drew her mom with a cigarette.

dan in philly August 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

Standardized testing has lead us away from education and towards technical training of how to properly answer standardized tests. Is the Flynn effect due to kids being trained from infancy how to properly take such tests?
I find the young not trained in how to think critically. Maybe it was always like this, certainly I was never trained to think in ways I have since learned through self study, ways very old and far more useful than what I learned in school.

Rahul August 9, 2013 at 9:39 am

You are blaming the wrong factor. It’s the teaching and teachers that we ought to blame not the standardized test.

I’d agree with your criticism if only our average high schoolers were doing spectacularly at canned standardized tests. Sadly they aren’t. If you fail to do well on a standardized test of arithmetic it isn’t the fault of the testing methodology.

Dan in Philly August 9, 2013 at 11:29 am

I suggest that teaching to the test is a spectacularly bad way of teaching people anything concretely useful. Performance on standardized tests at the highest level is going up up up (http://www.skill-guru.com/sat/more-students-earn-perfect-scores-on-the-sat-and-act/). Kids who used to not take the tests are now doing so, which may be pulling down the averages as a whole, but teaching to the test is doing a whiz bang job overall at teaching kids how to take tests, in my opinion.

Rahul August 10, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Standardized tests are an awful tool to measure performance at the highest levels but a great tool to measure performance of the average & mediocre.

Marie August 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I think this is absolutely correct, and because of that we shouldn’t use them across the board for the huge population of the U.S. When you reward kid for doing well at something that the very best students do poorly at, you aren’t just messing up those great students, you are skewing the whole mindset of the student population.

It would be different if there were no other way to create responsive schools, but there are.

Marie August 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I asked my kids the apple question. The youngest didn’t know how to even answer such a thing (6), the middle (9) said “yummy”, definitively. The oldest, most exposed to testing by far, and 12, answered a, but qualified it with “but they probably want you to say b or c”. She tests exceptionally well, but when she gets something wrong it’s usually because she overthinks what the answer is supposed to be, rather than what it is.

That’s a lot of brain power going into not algebra.

Anthony August 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Most of the change in test scores over the past 40 years is traceable to changing demography. White kids do about as well as they did 40 years ago. Black kids do as well as they did about 40 years ago. Hispanic kids, and Asian kids, ditto. But there are more of the lower-scoring groups in most school systems, only partially offset by more of the higher-scoring groups, except in some areas.

Depending on the tests, there is also some change in the population taking the test – SAT scores are declining because more kids are trying to get into college – when you add a bunch of kids in the top 40th to 70th percentiles to the testing population, the average scores get lower.

All of this is fairly independent of whatever fad in education or testing is current or was current 5 years ago.

Keljopy August 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm

The teaching maybe, not the teachers. Most of the teachers hate teaching to the test, but they have to to keep their jobs and keep their schools from being shutdown with crap like “no child left behind”.

Rahul August 10, 2013 at 5:09 am

A fair fraction of teachers hate “teaching to the test” because it also exerts higher demands and accountability on teachers. I’ve to now satisfy an external benchmark that (say) my students have mastered Algebra. Not just claim that they have based on a diluted crappy test I gave them.

PS. I’m not saying this is universally true but just that standardized testing does have its virtues. Especially when measuring the bare minimum skill set.

Marie August 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

I once was a huge advocate of standardized tests for just this reason — saw from the inside lots of incompetence. Unfortunately, we’ve swapped the frying pan for the fire.

The only solution for poor education is local control, and meaningful local control — meaning the community has the power, knows it has the power, and uses it. It’s not hard to figure out which teachers do a poor job. If the community the teachers work for is able to hire and fire without excessive bars, and is involved enough to know who to hire and fire, the problem gets fixed. Relying on a convoluted chain of command hampered by red tape everywhere, basing their decisions on the results of tests that have become as corrupted as the bad teachers doesn’t just not improve things, it adds a level of bad to the bad already there. Yes, many teachers will saying testing is “the” problem because they are lazy or incompetent. It’s not “the” problem. But it’s certainly “a” problem.

It’s a shame.

asdf August 10, 2013 at 9:55 am

Scores on standardized tests closely match IQ. Teachers can’t choose the IQ of their students (in public school). Thus if the pass mark is set above the natural talent of the students the teacher is destined to “fail” at their job.

The only thing the testing will do is make those at the margin, whose students might pass if they focus like a laser on the material on the test, teach to the test.

Tracy W August 9, 2013 at 2:12 pm

How much education happens without standardised testing? It’s noticeable that the fields in which failure is most obvious, eg aircrafts, consumer electronics, are the ones most obsessed with standardised testing. (Because if you don’t standardise the tests you risk forgetting one question and sods law that’s the one that fails).

Tom West August 9, 2013 at 9:47 am

Somehow the question reminds me of overhearing a seven-year old being asked how is being scared and being overjoyed were related.

There was a *long* pause and finally the boy answered “they both make my heart beat faster”.

I suspect there was an X in that row as they were probably hoping to see the word emotion in the answer.

anon August 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

Best bit in the article is the last graf:

Though occasionally, Ms Rheault adds, a play date might show a parent that an elite school is not suitable for their child. ”Sometimes you have to reset a parent’s expectation. George might be bouncing off the walls.”

So, “elite” schools have no George’s bouncing off the walls. All the George’s are medicated so they will sit still and learn to do as they are told.

Now, when I hear about things like this I envision a bunch of parents and their children as lab rats learning to press levers to earn rewards.

N=3: The few young adults I know who have been raised in this fashion tend to have less resilience in unstructured situations and do much better in structured situations – perfect for large organizations.

I wonder what parents like the ones in the article see their children doing 5 to 10 years after graduating from a “good college”.

anon August 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

Georges, not George’s

Marie August 9, 2013 at 10:24 am

I’ve seen folks criticize home school groups, or look stunned when seeing ours. I had a hard time understanding that, since the groups seemed to have really good characteristics to me — curious, self-driven, highly social, able to socialize effectively across age and class groups and to adapt to different groupings. Plus there was all that neo-stereotypical stuff — behaving respectfully towards adults sort of thing.

But baby boomer adults can be almost shocked. One grandma was trying very, very hard to be open minded, but she just couldn’t wrap her head around a few things — the ones she herself pointed out, kids going everywhere (even toddlers were roaming throughout rooms, not in playpens) and older kids watching out for younger kids (that was the realm of adults).

I think the go-to example can be seen on the playgrounds, where in some cultures children are scolded if they try to climb *up* the slides (of course, all children should be scolded if they block others sliding down, but for some parents this is a blanket rule — slides are for “down”). Heaven help the mom who wanders into this culture and lets her kid climb on the *outside* of the covered slide!

This is the problem with most standardized testing — if it’s successful, you get what you test for. And we’re testing to get very dull, inept, skill-less, compliant kids.

Cliff August 9, 2013 at 10:34 am

Are you talking about some kind of play test? Because I don’t see how an IQ test gets you very dull, inept kids.

Marie August 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm

When my kid was little I tried to get her kindergarten teacher to let her read in class. They wouldn’t allow it unless she tested into gifted. The counselor doing the testing told me it was good to put these kids in their own groupings, because otherwise it was hard for them. They’d look up in the sky with a bunch of peers, and their friends would say, “I see a dragon”, “I see a horse”, and the “gifted” kid would say, “I see a cumulus cloud.”

So if my kid wound up being one of the lucky elites, it wasn’t just important to teach her to recognize a cumulus cloud. It was important to teach her not to see the dragon, or horse, or whatever.

It’s not the test. It’s not the taking of the test. It’s a systemic reliance on the test as presented. When a huge degree of time is devoted to this testing and a huge number of incentives are available for those who test well (and disincentives applied for those who don’t– like you’re not allowed to read in class), you train your kids to put their energy into certain areas and kill off others. Of course, some will be clever enough to play the system.

Marie August 9, 2013 at 12:51 pm

In other words, testing communicates judgment, and if you teach through repetitive testing that “is” has only one meaning (classification, and not connection with a predicate nominative or adjective, not connection with experience or judgment) you are narrowing minds.

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