Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Prepping Machine Rolls On, High-Stakes Style

Some people think standardized tests are the best measures of how well students actually think.  These same people fail to realize that even many questions that seem to test critical-thinking skills can be learned through drills and rote memorization.  I can speak personally to the subject of history.

One very old Regents question, for instance, asks for an immediate result of the Magna Carta.  The correct answer reads an "increase in the power of nobles."  When teachers prep, knowing the Regents tend to ask the same questions, they tell students that the "Magna Carta increased the power of the nobles."  It is a Regents concept, quite simply put, which students must memorize.  There is nothing higher order about it.  Students might not fully understand either the Magna Carta, its historical context or the power of the nobles at that point in history, but they have learned how to look for the right answer.  They might not understand the importance of rights, but they must understand the importance of being right!  Witness the power of prep, high-stakes style!

Students sometimes stop by for tutoring.  It is a professional assignment, one I like--because I like working with students.  Most teachers do.  Imagine that!  We discussed Reconstruction the other day.  As we examined old Regents questions, despite the challenges of language faced by the student, I could point out that more times than not the answer seems to be "black codes," a reference to laws passed by Southern legislatures to severely restrict the freedoms of freed persons and force them into a new form of basically debt-based slavery.  Even if the student didn't understand entirely my attempt to explain the concept, she can learn to look for the term "black codes" paired with "limited basic rights of freed persons."  I would hope she understands the concept of rights, but even if she doesn't, she can learn to find the right answer.  Although she doesn't know a great deal of English, she can help herself by learning some "tricks" and how to pair terms and concepts.  

One year when I taught Global, I gave students a list of things they should know for the Regents.  Sometimes, I ask them to make the list themselves.  They can easily do so.  If students are trained to do things like pair John Locke with natural rights, they may do well enough.  There are formulas for success.

Even if a few new questions pop up here and there or everything is completely overhauled via the mysterious "Core," students and teachers will still find ways to game the new test.  It just may take a little time.  Welcome to the new world of high-stakes review!

In case you have to prep for the Global History Regents this year, here are some "higher-order" concepts you might want to have your students pair in their heads, a.k.a., Global History reduced to platitudes:

1.  Civilization begins in...river valleys.
2.  Trade routes are so important to the growth of civilization.
3.  Romans excelled at law, engineering, republican government, then military conquest and empire building.
4.  Religions provide guidelines for moral/ethical behavior.
5.  Taoism, Shinto and Animism respect the divine forces of nature.
6.  The Byzantines preserved Graeco-Roman learning and influenced Russia.  
7.  The Golden Age of Islam achieved advancements in math, science and literature.  
8.  The collapse of Rome's central government led to feudalism (an exchange of land for military service).
9.  The manor was the economic unit of feudalism.
10.  The crusades encouraged trade, towns, cultural diffusion.

Remember, your professional life may depend upon hammering these concepts into your students' heads.  If you hammer in the wrong concepts, even if they're right or of equal importance in your opinion, you may be wrong.  We all know how high the price can be for being "wrong" in this new era of educational deformity.  Play the game.  As the prepping machine rolls on, you must roll the dice, high-stakes style.  If you don't, you may end up with the educational equivalent of the card that reads "Go to jail.  Go directly to jail.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200."

 What fun when "reformers" have a Monopoly on education!
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