Scandalous Standards

It looked like an ordinary math question. Students were asked to speculate on the price of corn and to recommend how a farmer could increase his profits. But during the grading process something very out of the ordinary happened. Students who recommended that the farmer use pesticides were given a lower grade--even if their math was correct. And those who got the math wrong still received a partially correct score--so long as they didn't mention using agricultural chemicals. This isn't the way you and I were graded in school. Now, I have nothing against kids learning to care for the environment--but I do object to politicizing math exams. And that's exactly what is happening as a result of the planned federal curriculum standards that the federal government is attempting to foist onto the states. As Candice de Russy notes in Crisis magazine, politically correct national standards will inevitably lead to politically correct testing standards--standards that put a lower premium on learning skills and information in favor of enhancing social transformation. In an effort to meet these standards, de Russy writes, it is inevitable that "teachers will tend naturally to adapt their lessons to the new psychometric test items." That's why we're seeing questions like the one that penalized kids for recommending that farmers use pesticides. By law, states must conform their testing standards to federal curriculum and performance standards, or lose federal funding. The state tests are being carefully guarded by the Educational Testing Service. Parents and even elected officials are refused access to them, de Russy says. There's a reason for this secretiveness. Americans would be outraged to learn of the content of some of these federally mandated exams. Consider, for example, a question on one state exam. De Russy relates that fourth graders were shown a photo of a man lying on a sidewalk and were then asked what could be done to help the homeless. The highest mark was awarded to the pupil who answered: "Some of them even have to sleep in garbage cans to keep warm and the rich people just kick them around." Who received one of the lowest scores? The student who answered that the way to help the homeless is to "build houses for people like that because God made them." These are the kinds of politically correct tests that national standards are bringing in their wake--tests that have a built-in ideological bias. De Russy concludes that what lies behind the federal curriculum standards is "an extreme rejection of the traditional vision of schooling." This traditional view is derived from our Christian heritage, which accepts the existence of absolute, unchangeable truths. But when belief in objective truth is abandoned, all that's left are the dictates of whatever cultural elites happen to be in power. By contrast, Christians believe that students should be taught objective facts and principles about the world around them--not forced through biased testing to focus on social transformation. It's the difference between learning and indoctrination. What kinds of questions are on your state's test? If ever there was a reason for becoming involved with your local PTA or school board--this is it. There's a lot more at stake than the price of corn in Kansas. The very future of our children's minds is hanging in the balance.  


Chuck Colson


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