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Current Editor: Dr. Robert T. Howell  bhowell@fhsu.edu
Volume 38, Number 2
Winter 2001


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Testing, Testing…

Recently, a columnist in our local newspaper, who typically devotes himself to light humor, instead attempted a bit of political commentary. His topic: testing in the public schools. What was noteworthy about this particular instance of public school bashing was the circular logic he employed, because it reflected a common laypersons' response to the recent emphasis on accountability testing in our schools. The logic goes something like this: "There is too much testing in the schools, and we don't place enough weight on grades determined by teachers (who work with our children every day), but the teachers must be unqualified grade inflators, or else we wouldn't need all this testing!" Ergo, testing is the desirable alternative to not testing.

How have we reached the point where educated, caring parents and school board members at both state and local levels willingly accept this logic? There are obviously many contributing factors, but much of the blame can be placed on that insidious, deceptive word "accountability." Parents and taxpayers feel reassured that the system is designed to weed out incompetent teachers, and to keep all teachers focused on critical skills. Indeed, accountability tests play an important role in ensuring that educators attend to the standards set forth in the curriculum. Why, then, do we see such backlash from people who have made education their life's work? For example, in the January 2001 issue of Kappan, we have Alfie Kohn describing his "practical guide to rescuing our schools" from standardized tests. Eliot Eisner describes the fundamental, significant problems that stem from the system of standards and measures that has been adopted in nearly all states. Scott Thompson notes that in our quest for meaningful school reform we have instead unleashed its "evil twin." In spite of these concerns, accountability testing remains the keystone in the federal policy agenda for the public schools.

In my home state of North Carolina, we boast a Vocational Achievement Tracking System (VoCATS). It includes state adopted course guides or "blueprints" for every career and technical area, that spell out the major goals and student outcomes for each course, along with multiple-choice tests that are delivered, per state mandate, at the end of each course (for more information, see http://www.ncdpi.state.nc.us). Following the lead of subjects such as mathematics, reading, and writing, VoCATS tests are now secure, meaning that teachers are not privy to the questions their students will encounter on the end of course tests. Selected results from a study of elementary teachers in North Carolina who have experienced high stakes testing over time indicate a narrowing of the curriculum, more time spent on test review and less time on instruction, an increase in student anxiety, and a lowering of teacher morale. Over 75% of the teachers objected to the state's practice of tying teacher salary incentives to student accountability test scores (Jones, Jones, Hardin, Chapman, Yarbrough, and Davis, 1999).

Perhaps the most encouraging news on the accountability testing front is the "honor roll of resistance" described by Ohanian (2001). She lists nearly two-dozen instances of teachers and students attempting to undermine the testing movement in their districts or states. As teacher educators, we share the mandate of furthering the goals of meaningful reform, while at the same time encouraging the responsible and sensible use of accountability measures.

In This Issue

Virginia Osgood provides an in-depth look at the use of mentors for new teachers within trade and industrial education in Oklahoma. As states increasingly rely on teachers who have entered teaching through alternative routes, with sometimes little or no prior exposure to teaching as a profession, strategies for retaining those teachers are becoming more important. Early success is a key to teacher retention, and mentors are perceived as a critical factor in helping new teachers achieve success. Through her examination of mentor/mentee relationships within one state, Osgood is able to provide insights to other educators who are developing or engaged in mentoring programs.

Patrick Foster and Michael Wright have written an engaging account of research examining the effects of elementary technology instruction on students' technological understanding, capability, and attitudes. Their analysis adds to the growing body of literature describing the benefits of technology education at the elementary level.

Susan Olson, Qetler Jensrud, and Peggy McCann report on their national study of credentialing for two-year college instructors. The need for technical instructors at every level continues to increase, along with the challenge of identifying and preparing instructors who have both technical expertise and an understanding of learners and the learning process. This follow-up study indicates that there is still a great deal of variety in credentialing requirements from state to state.

Clarence Whittenburg, Melissa Marcus, Dennis Tesolowski, and Clinton Isbell examine the prevalence and characteristics of diversity training in Fortune 250 companies. Workforce demographics in the United States have changed significantly over the last several decades, and the ability to prepare workers for diversity in the workplace is a critical element for success of large, multi-national corporations. In particular, these authors look at the relationship between diversity programs and the levels of diversity present in these companies, and reported negative reactions to diversity programs.

In the At Issue section, Teresa J.K. Hall discusses the importance of adopting technological literacy as a mandate for technology education. Her thoughtful essay notes the challenges implicit in accepting this mandate: technology educators at all levels must continuously expand their own abilities to effectively further its goals. Andrew Schultz has written a lively critique of Diane Ravitch's book Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reform. Schultz teases out the biases against vocational and industrial education that are prevalent in Ravitch's book, and offers pointed criticism to refute her views. Finally, we are pleased to announce the Outstanding Manuscript Award winners for Volume 37.

MCH

References

Jones, M.; Jones, B.; Hardin, B.; Chapman, L.; Yarbrough, T.; & Davis, M. (1999). The impact of high-stakes testing on teachers and students in North Carolina. Kappan, 80(3), 199-203.

Ohanian, S. (2001). News from the resistance trail. Kappan, 82(5), 363-366.


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