Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are blunt weapons, but not an ineffective ones. The three real issues with them are 1) we have to be prepared to sacrifice every bit of learning that isn’t on the test and 2) the tests need to reflect the standards perfectly and 3) the standards have to reflect all the essential knowledge that the students need to learn.

It really is that simple. If we’re prepared to accept that the kids will mostly only learn the standards and we trust the people who write the standards to write the right ones, then testing will steadily drive the results (and therefore the learning of the standards) in the right direction.

We can see that in California. Since NCLB came into effect, the aggregate test scores have steadily improved. From 2003 to 2009, 17% more students are testing proficient or better on Math and 15% more are testing proficient or better on English Language Arts (ELA) (California Department of Education, 2010).

Of course, the aggregate numbers are still horrible: only 57% are proficient or better in math and 50% test proficient or better in ELA, up from 41% and 35% respectively in 2003. Maybe that’s a good reason to accept the blunt weapon of standardized testing, the historical alternative was apparently far less effective.


California Department of Education. (2010). Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Results. Retrieved March 11, 2010, from

Teaching to the Test, Part Two

I think bucking the standards/testing paradigm is not viable. I do think 1st grade is a more important time to build a broad base of knowledge and to learn that learning is fun than to ace some standardized test. But I don’t want to be the one trying to argue that point to parents and administrators.

It seems to me that most people think there are only two choices: ignore testing or build the year around testing. I don’t like either of those options. My idea is to embrace essentialism as surgically as possible and teach exactly to the test as a subset of the daily activity. Hopefully, by defining this part of the annual learning obligation so narrowly and deliberately, time is freed up in the day to do much of the ‘yummy stuff’ that might get pushed aside in a more classic, full time essentialist curriculum.

I’ve been trying to teach the kids that testing is like football or performing on stage, it’s a fun challenge and it’s something where practice improves outcomes. It’s something that can be embraced.

I hope and intend that this strategy ends up with great test results and kids who think education is more than the black and white of No. 2 pencils and answer sheets. I hope that they’ll do great on the tests, have a broad education, and believe that education is as joyful as life.

I can’t take credit for the idea, although it is exactly my style. I first encountered it in the books of Rafe Esquith. He’s pretty much my role model.


Esquith, R. (2003). There are no shortcuts. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire: The methods and madness inside room 56. New York, NY: Viking.

Esquith, R. (2009). Lighting their fires: Raising extraordinary children in a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world. New York, NY: Viking Adult.

Media Violence

What is the influence of media on children’s development, including aggression, ethnic and gender stereotypes, consumerism, and academic learning?

Bee & Boyd (2007) puts the question in perspective very well: “Television… is an educational medium.  Children learn from what they watch” (p. 411).  One study after another demonstrates the effectiveness of visual media (e.g. television, video games, movies, etc) as a teaching tool.

If the media is Sesame Street or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood or even positively themed but less intentionally educational media like Lassie, viewers benefit.  Whether fostering racial tolerance, kindness, helpfulness, vocabulary or school readiness, TV shows have been shown to be correlated with positive outcomes for viewing children (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 408-409).  On the other hand, violent TV shows have been shown to correlate concurrently and longitudinally with poorer grades, lower test scores and the less developed reading skills (Bee & Boyd, p. 409).  More disturbingly, TV has been show to correlate with emotional desensitization and increases in aggressive behavior.  One study found the incidence of aggressive acts immediately following viewing of a popular, violent children’s show increased sevenfold (Bee & Boyd, p. 410).  Another study links the watching of violent television at age eight with serious criminal behavior 20 years later (Bee & Boyd, p. 410).  There also seems to be a dangerous vicious circle as regards violence and media, “the more violent television programs children watch, the more violent video games they prefer, and the more aggressively they behave toward peers (Mediascope, 1999)” (Bee & Boyd, p. 412).   

Bee & Boyd (2007) quote L.D. Eron’s testimony to Congress that makes an excellent summary of the subject: “There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised violence is one of the causes of aggressive behavior, crime and violence in society.  The evidence comes from both the laboratory and real-life studies.  Television violence affects youngsters of all ages, of both genders, at all socioeconomic levels and all levels of intelligence.  The effect is not limited to children who are already disposed to being aggressive and is not restricted to this country. (Eron, 1992, p. S8539)” (p. 410-411).


Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.