Banning the spelling tests

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Banning the spelling tests

Post by JIM CURRAN » Mon Nov 01, 2010 9:28 pm

This article which appears in Jay Mathews's column in The Washington Post is well worth a read.

Outrage at banning spelling tests

J. Martin Rochester, Curators' Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is our guest columnist. He is a close student of the evolution of American education practices, and often warns of the deterioration of standards.

By J. Martin Rochester

The documentary “Waiting for Superman,” is yet another call for K-12 school reform aimed at closing the gap between academic achievers and non-achievers and promoting what an assistant superintendent in my school district once oxymoronically labeled “mass excellence.”

The problem is that school reformers are not really serious about raising the bar. After all, they continue to dumb-down education – adopting the slogan from the Chris Farley a Tommy Boy, “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Lower the Standard” – while claiming to be smarting up. How one can do higher-order thinking in math, social studies, or any other discipline while clueless about lower-order knowledge and skills remains a mystery to those of us who are not in tune with the latest best practices in K-12. ... lling.html

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Re: Banning the spelling tests

Post by Kiki » Tue Nov 02, 2010 5:03 pm

Actually, I don't think that articles of this kind are at all helpful or productive. While I agree with a number of the author's more general points, the article reads as a 'right' wing tirade against 'yet another misguided loony left idea'. Articles like this simply serve to polarise the ideological 'argument' without any really measured consideration of the FACTS and EVIDENCE.

On the specific point of the value of spelling tests the writer does not offer any evidence as to the educative value of spelling tests. He says “ Show me that “authentic” assessments do anything to improve spelling. You can bet that the educators behind this fad will not be able to demonstrate such. “ Likewise, Mr Rochester, should show us that spelling tests, in their own right do what he appears to claim.

Personally, I think the teaching of spelling needs as much thought and structure as the teaching of reading, in fact even more so given that it is a much more difficult skill to acquire. However, I don't think that spelling tests (in their own right) perform much of a useful function when part of the chaotic, eclectic approaches to teaching spelling that are so prevalent in UK and presumably US schools.

As one of the schools in question commented “we were developing a lot of Friday morning spellers.” My own dyslexic son consistently achieved 100% in his weekly spelling tests at primary school but his spelling still languishes on the 30th centile while his general ability is on the 85th. Mr Rochester does not tackle the issue of how spelling should be taught for example but seems content to write-off the dyslexic, lazy and just “plain stupid”.

By the way, I am very pro testing and and I agree that spelling tests as part of a properly structured spelling instruction system are essential although they will serve a very different purpose from the tests the author is thinking of. I also would have liked to have know more about exactly how the schools were going to teach spelling (and truth be told suspected that it would be as wishy-washy as Mr Rochester claimed. However, arguments would, in my opinion be much stronger if presented in a more rounded, evidence rich and measured way.

Ultimately, I imagine that most 'left-wing', 'progressive' ideologues want high standards in education for everyone. Unfortunately they seem, sadly, very misguided as to how to achieve that and literally can't or refuse to see that their warm, fuzzy, child-centred philosophies simply don't achieve the intended outcome. It is because they are ideological rather than scientific thinkers they are unable to see and assimilate the evidence choosing only to see what supports their 'beliefs'.

If only we could keep ALL ideology of any kind out of education! Until we move away from this supposed left v right education politics we will achieve nothing.

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Re: Banning the spelling tests

Post by Elizabeth » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:53 pm

I agree, Kiki. I get very frustrated at the notion that teaching children how to read directly and systematically is right-wing.

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