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Spelling Test, Part 2

Critical readers will, Im sure, advise me if Ive left out a category in the following simile, but I can think of only one field of endeavor as innately hostile to the notion of quality--measurement as education: art.

In art you can succeed by mimicking chimpanzee activity in spatter-painting with over-loaded brushes, by pasting multiple soup-can labels on a canvas, by assembling cut-out rectangles of varying colors, by welding scrap-yard chunks of steel together, by designing buildings evocative of over-sized partially-crushed tin cans.

Dont even think about asking any measurable technical-skills questions with regard to the above, all of which have been done, very profitably, very recently. Likewise in education, where you can likewise profit economically if you can convince the actual bill-payers that your product civilized, articulate, numerate, and historically-conscious young-graduatescan and should be produced without testing, because the educational process is so ineffable and the desired results so complex as to be quite unsusceptible to mere test-by-q-and-a.

The no-test demand is a spin-off from the militarys dont-ask-dont-tell policy: if outsiders can be trained not to ask with any specificity what students and graduates have learned, educators wont tell.

When I was a public-school student, the educational establishment wasnt test-averse as it is today. High school students in New York and California sat for academically-rigorous Regents Exams. All students had mid-terms and finals, as well as the dreaded pop-quiz. Beyond-the-classroom notions of process quality control and Six Sigma quality standards were then still far in the future, but in-the-classroom notions of the importance of testing were unquestioned. Nor did they necessarily pose after-hours grading work for teachers: in schools I attended, it was frequent standard practice for students to grade each others answer sheets, against a perfect example passed out after the actual test.

We werent trusted, wisely, to grade each others essay answers. Today, however, quite a different official posture towards testing prevails in lower (K-12) education: hostility. It cant be presented as such, of course, so a different gambit is used. Consider this recent dismissive quote from Dr. Jane Babcock, superintendent of schools for the Keokuk, Iowa, public education operation:

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