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The true test of an education
by Larry Wilson
Mar 07, 2011 | 733 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Reconstructing our educational system nationwide is a high priority on the bucket list of many of our states’ legislatures. Unfortunately, many of the legislators have not been in a classroom since they left the K-12 public education system they grew up with. Nonetheless, they feel knowledgeable enough to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to retooling the system.

I agree, some changes are necessary. At the same time, I don’t recommend throwing the baby out with the bath water just yet. Yes, there is some dead wood out there in terms of teachers who should be counseled into another line of work, but for the most part our country has a cadre of enthusiastic, well-educated and motivated teachers. What they could use is some help coping with all the societal changes in today’s student bodies nationwide.

At the elementary level, trying to have every child read at grade level by the end of third grade is a grand goal, but with all the exceptions being handed down this goal is an unachievable one. It is good to have goals for students where ever they fall on the infamous bell curve of intelligence, but realistic goals for both students and teachers is necessary at the same time.

Students at the elementary level should be tested as to their basic knowledge of their level’s curriculum at least three times a year using the same test each time. Administer the first test the first day of school. Test them again in the middle of the school year and then test them a third time near the end of school. The results should be in the teacher’s hands the day after the test to allow him or her time to quickly formulate a strategy to bring the student’s performance up to their grade level as necessary.

Currently, the Washoe County School District does this in math, but it should be done across the curriculum so as to be a thorough gauge of each student’s progress. The Washoe County School District pays for the current math test that is performed at the elementary level.

Nevada mandates and pays for the administering and scoring of the Criterion Referenced Test (CRT) that is given in the elementary schools each spring. It is a nationally normed test that is balanced, as much as is possible, for things like cultural differences and regional differences (i.e. do students in Nevada know what a water tower is?) so as to be a fair test to students all over the United States. It gives teachers, parents and administrators another gauge to measure a student’s knowledge of the curriculum at their level. The drawback to this test is that its results take too long to reach the teacher. By the time the results come in, there is little time for teachers to formulate and execute an educational plan in time to be productive.

The CRT results are almost irrelevant by the next fall when a teacher is adjusting to the educational needs of a whole new class of students. At best, the CRT testing is almost a glorified exercise in the fabled story of the emperor’s new clothes. Since the CRT almost always shows some progress, it is a feel-good exercise so the school district can say to parents what a great job their student is doing. Hello! That will happen naturally as long as the student isn’t hanged by their fingers in a dark closet somewhere. Kids grow in their understanding of our world just by living in our society.

Special education student scores are not figured in. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if you exclude the scores of the lowest-scoring test takers the performance of the other scores will look better. This charade has gone on far too long.

Testing is good only as long as it provides the purveyors of education a tool with which to formulate a rational plan of attack for each student to correct any deficiencies in their overall learning.

Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at
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