Scientific genius Albert Einstein posited a theory, other than the scientific ones he is known for, that has withstood the test of time: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. At least, it’s been widely attributed to Einstein.
One of the more depressing rituals here in our nation’s capital is the annual charade both parties go through in which they attempt to fix old laws by passing new ones that look remarkably like the older statutes. In education, we are now piling a Race to the Top atop No Child Left Behind.
“With test scores serving as the primary if not the sole measure of student performance and, increasingly, teacher evaluation, anything not being tested was given short shrift,” retired high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein  writes of the effects of NCLB in Academe, a journal published by the American Association of University Professors. “Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays.”
“Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure. Thus, students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education.”
Bernstein taught in Maryland. “First (and I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here), in the AP US Government exam the constructed responses are called ‘free response questions’ and are graded by a rubric that is concerned primarily with content and, to a lesser degree, argument,” Bernstein explains. “If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words. Thus, a teacher might prepare the student to answer those questions in a format that is not good writing by any standard. If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support. Some critical thinking may be involved, at least, but the approach works against development of the kinds of writing that would be expected in a true college-level course in government and politics.” One wonders if the architects of NCLB will admit to as much culpability as Bernstein did.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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