Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Physics Teaching, High Stakes Testing

Comment in T&G on Clive's column criticizing high stakes testing for its effects on the quality of education:

I agree with Maclear and Fitzgm that MCAS is a big problem. It distorts the curriculum by robbing it of many of the untested subjects, the ones that can give a high school education depth and beauty for the student. But more, it distorts the subjects it tests, freezing them in place like a finished product - or commodity.

Case in point, physics teaching. Because physics has been an untested subject, physics teachers have been free to innovate and explore new ways of teaching it, and even new ways of thinking about it. Working with university teachers, they've made huge breakthroughs in understanding how students learn and understand - and in measuring their results.

Out of this have come "research based" teaching approaches, like the Modeling Method out of Arizona State, which have enabled high school students to learn things that previously required spending several years as a physics major. These approaches have spread across the country, mainly from teacher to teacher. The Modeling Method alone is being used in 10% of America's physics classrooms. Teachers and students love it, and many achieve breakthroughs in math.

It also yields no revenue stream for the publishers.

Now around the country physics is becoming a "tested subject". The tests are coming out of the old physics and physics teaching, as reflected in the textbooks. They impose a pace and sequence of topics that is inconsistent with what we've learned. And from all over the country physics teachers are writing in distress about being forced to give up research-based instruction.

Knowledge is a living growing thing, the finest creation of our species, and acquiring it should be exciting. But these high stakes tests require defining the boundaries of subjects and transforming them into commodities that can be measured, sold, even speculated on. In the process they squeeze the life out of these subjects and make them unloveable.

As we love our children, we need to come together and say no to this commerce-driven assault on our children and the people who have dedicated their lives to teaching them.
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