tests

'Boots on the Ground'

SUMMER IS THE season for high school football practice. Two years ago, the players at Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore., got a different kind of coaching, brought in by head coach Steve Pyne. For the first time, U.S. Army recruiters would serve as volunteers to run the football team through their strength and conditioning paces—helping them prepare for the annual “Holy War” matchup against archrival Jesuit High School.

According to an article in the U.S. Army’s monthly Recruiter Journal, the Army “footprint” for the big game included a Humvee parked outside the stadium and a pre-kickoff event in which local recruiters placed “unit patch decals from various Army divisions” onto players’ helmets.

“Not once at practice did we talk about the Army,” said one of the recruiters. “It wasn’t about the Army. It was about how we can integrate ourselves into the community in a way the community will accept us and not feel like we are a threat.”

In recent years, the Pentagon’s military recruiting capabilities have experienced a quantum leap—including unprecedented access to Christian high schools. Not only are military recruiters using football to gain entry into parochial schools, but they are increasingly relying on military testing in schools to access students’ private information without parental consent.

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Test Anxiety

THE SO-CALLED “accountability movement” has been a bipartisan movement; virtually no one is proposing that we cut back on standardized tests. They’ve come to dominate school for children and teachers, and they’ve narrowed the curriculum. They’ve caused people to feel pressure to cheat. While standardized tests have been emphasized less in schools where children are highly affluent—those children still get an enriched curriculum—children in schools that are poor get a heavily test-prep curriculum that’s not very enticing.

At a higher level, standardized tests are at the core of the test-and-punish philosophy of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). All the punishments are based on test scores; whether it’s identifying failing schools and closing them if their scores are too low or giving teachers poor evaluations, and maybe firing them, based on student test scores—or whether it’s the very draconian ways of dealing with the bottom 5 percent of schools in the NCLB waivers and Race to the Top grants, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan proposes.

High-stakes testing is at the core of what’s wrong with where we’re headed. Because the stakes are so high, they’ve caused a narrowing of the curriculum. The tests required for NCLB are basic reading and math. They don’t test social studies or the arts. Because the scores matter so much, they’re driving policy all around it.

We know that student tests aren’t designed to evaluate their teachers. Teaching is a hugely complicated endeavor of connection between students and teachers, and test scores may not reflect what’s happening there and the benefits.

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'We Have a Long Way to Go'

For nearly 50 years, Jonathan Kozol has dedicated his life to working with low-income children in inner cities. As one of the leading advocates for public education reform and the author of three prize-winning books about his time with children in the South Bronx, Kozol is a steadfast champion of children subjected to poverty. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America serves as his culminating work about his captivating journey, with them, of friendship, triumph, and loss.

As Jan Resseger points out in “Education and the Wealth Gap” in the September-October issue of Sojourners magazine, the unjust, systemic economic inequality in U.S. public education today harms the common good. Kozol writes with conviction and clarity that public education must be reformed to benefit all children, not just a select few.

Fire in the Ashes launched nationwide on August 28; he’s currently on a fall book tour. Sojourners assistant editor Elaina Ramsey, a former resident of the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, spoke with Kozol in early August.

Elaina Ramsey: What compelled you to write Fire in the Ashes?
Jonathan Kozol: In the middle of the 1980s, I was drawn into the terrible struggles of the destitute families in New York. A religious friend of mine brought me to a homeless shelter in midtown Manhattan, a nightmarish place called the Martinique Hotel. It was a 17-story building packed with about 1600 children and their parents. I spent two or three years with families from that shelter. In 1990 and 1991, the city finally shut down that shelter and resettled them in the poorer sections of the South Bronx.              

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SURVEY: Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Kids these days experience a lot of pressure, especially from the onslaught of standardized tests in public schools. Test Anxiety by Jan Resseger in the September-October 2012 issue of Sojourners explains how test scores have become an inefficient way to identify failing schools, measure teacher performance, or assess students’ educational development. And yet, standardized tests are all the rage in public education.

Take five minutes and see if you can make the grade by completing this multiple-choice test based on actual fifth-grade level questions. Don’t worry about recalling history lessons, employing scientific knowledge, or using your artistic intellect. Just like today’s standardized exams taken by children across the country, this test measures your “intelligence” by evaluating only math and reading skills.

And remember, there is no cheating—or googling—allowed. If all else fails, the answer is always C, right?

UPDATE: We have exceeded our limit of survey responses. This test is now closed -- thank you for your interest!

Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners.

Image: Quiz Time, Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

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