Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer

If you place any faith in standardized testing, you really need to read The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer by Dan DiMaggio:

Here is but a taste:

I remember reading, for twenty-three straight days, the responses of thousands of middle-schoolers to the question, “What is a goal of yours in life?” A plurality devoted several paragraphs to explain that their life’s goal was to talk less in class, listen to their teacher, and stop fooling around so much. It’s asking too much to hope for great literature on a standardized test. But, given that this is the process through which so many students are learning to write and to think, one would hope for more. These rote responses, in themselves, are a testament to the failure of our education system, its failure to actually connect with kids’ lives, to help them develop their humanity and their critical thinking skills, to do more than discipline them and prepare them to be obedient workers—or troops.


  1. Even when I offer the opportunity to write authentically in my class the process often fails. The problem lies with the concept of writing on demand. The ability to write something powerful extemporaneously is a liberal arts goal. I have students that beg for time to write freely. These young people will even gamely attempt the themes I suggest. Most students will produce an adequate composition when you ask but the product usually lacks authenticity. Authentic writing is purposeful and meaningful to the author. Few of us are motivated to write and more importantly the writing outcomes teachers seek are usually a distraction to authentic writing. "Write a letter, write an exposition, write a description," we ask them, when what they want to write is a poem.

  2. I remember when I was little, I was in 4th or 5th grade maybe, and we were doing a little project in class. Part of it was to make a little poem. I remember about the one I wrote the teacher said "Wow, that's really good." and I wasn't thinking, "How many grades will I get for it?" I was thinking "Is it really good?" mainly because I was more worried about being a good writer than being a good student.

  3. As I reflect back on my life as a student I don't remember feeling that my intense desire to learn what "I wanted to learn" about or my abilities to learn that information was called into question by what grades I received in school or what my teachers were wanting me to learn. I had a thirst for learning and if something the teacher taught was interesting enough I would spend time learning it, it also seems to me that found almost everything a teacher said or tried to teach me interesting. If I truly wasn't interested on occassion I would busy myself with learning anything I could from whatever textbook or book I had in front of me at the time. Was I the only student like this then or now? I assume that I am not. I just see very little evidence of this kind of attitude for learning in my students today.


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