Monday, October 12, 2009

A true believer

The other day I took issue with a statement made by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. It's worth taking a closer look at the article in which that statement appeared.

Hirsch, one of the Godfathers of high-stakes testing, was attempting to explain why, since high-stakes testing was formally incorporated into the No Child Left Behind law, reading scores have fallen. The problem is not with the use of high-stakes tests, he explains; the problem is the "unintended consequence that much time is being misspent on how-to skills and test preparation."

Unintended consequence? Gee, I guess nobody could have seen that coming. But Hirsch's proposed cure is no better than the disease. He proposes to have the state dictate a uniform curriculum that would apply to the first five grades of every elementary school -- every child reading the same material. Then we can base the high-stakes test on that uniform curriculum! (How this will eliminate the incentive to use drills and test-prep exercises is unexplained.)

This is revolutionary fervor disguised as expertise. If we have failed, the argument goes, it is only because our stranglehold was insufficiently tight. Conveniently, all failures can be explained away in this manner. Hirsch, for all his advocacy of "cultural literacy," seems never to have heard of the word "hubris."

..How can I comment?