F in Exams

F in Exams coverSometimes, as a teacher, you just want to give points for a wrong answer because it’s just so creative or ludicrous that you feel they really will need those couple of points.

Describe the shape and structure of the Milky Way.
It’s kind of like a long, bumpy rectangle.  It’s completely covered in milk chocolate, but inside there are two delicious layers: chocolaty nougat and caramel.

Explain the saying: Some people don’t look up until they are flat on their backs.
Some people can’t look up because something has happened to their necks.  For example, if a person gets kicked in the neck by a kung-fu midget, they will not be able to look up.

Upon ascending the throne the first thing Queen Elizabeth II did was to…
Sit down

Summarize the major events of the Cold War.
It started off by someone throwing an ice cream & then someone threw a popsicle back.

At first, I laughed.  Then, I laughed so hard I began to cry.  And then I became concerned for the human race.

expand_2x+yIt is possible this book is fiction.  No one could be that stupid.  Right?

Fact: There are half a dozen to a dozen fonts that look like handwriting in the book.  Fact: Except for a few crossed out answers, all words are spelled correctly.  Fact: The copyright page does not state the book is a work of fiction (conversely, it does not state it is non-fiction either).  Fact:  It is found in the humor section of the bookstore.

Could they really be real answers?

Change 7/8 to a decimal.

Steve is driving his car.  He is traveling at 60 feet/second and the speed limit is 40mph.  Is Steve speeding?
He could find out by checking his speedometer.

What does “terminal illness” mean?
When you become ill at the airport.

What is a vacuum?
Something my mom says I should use more often.

Fiction.  The human race can’t really be this stupid.

State two major world religions.
1. The force in Star Wars2. Football

Summarize the key developments in the Industrial Revolution.
Industry revolted

Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
At the bottom.

In either case, I know at least one of them is true…

Explain the process of “learning”.
A process by which information goes in one ear and out of the other.

F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers is authored by Richard Benson and is available at bookstores, Amazon, and on Kindle.

“Are we creating scavengers or readers?”

Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of questions at the end of the chapter or even a worksheet of questions to answer as you read the selection. From a student’s perspective, they love them because they think–“Jackpot! I don’t have to read, I just have to answer the questions.” So they scan. They find the answer to the question. And even then, if they cannot find it within a couple minutes or it’s not blatantly obvious because it’s not bolded–they give up and claim, “it’s not in the book” or “I couldn’t find it in the book so I skipped it.”

I’m not sure at what point in a person’s education that the the desire to do as little as possible came to be. Perhaps, it is because schooling is legally mandated until the age of 16 (at least in the USA). Students view their education as something forced upon them rather than something they chose to do. Days, months, and even years of a student’s life is consumed with studying and memorizing information through classes upon classes that do not interest them, seem to have no connection to the real world (or more importantly, their real world) or because they are told they “have to” learn it. And when people are confronted with something they do not want to do, they will take the path of least resistance around it.

Perhaps the path of least resistance developed out of necessity. Students are overwhelmed with academic pressures, societal pressures, family obligations, and personal desires. Prioritizing is the only way students are able to (somewhat) handle all these pressures. Some people choose academics. Some choose family. Some choose society. Some choose personal desires. Once a priority ranking is established, students then try to cope with “getting through” the other pressures, rather than try to balance them. Skimming text is one such technique. And while skimming has it’s uses, students have abandoned reading for understanding in favor of skimming. They find the answer, but have no idea what’s going on.

Fred Ende recently published an article on SmartBlogs (SmartBlog on Education) titled, “Are we creating scavengers or readers?” He makes several good points about the scavenging method of reading versus reading for comprehension.

Brief Intermission: For those of you unfamiliar with the “scavenger” method of “reading,” it basically works like this:

  1. Read questions given to be answered.
  2. Seek location in informational text or literature where this answer might be located.
  3. Find keywords and/or “giveaways” in text material.
  4. Write answer down without reading for context or deeper understanding.

Notice that this approach doesn’t actually involve any “reading.” For lack of a better characterization, it’s not good.

Ende also points out that one of the Common Core’s goals is to remedy the issue of skimming versus reading for understanding by requiring students “supply evidence” from the text. However, Ende makes clear that “supplying evidence” doesn’t always yield in complete comprehension.

Seemingly, the Common Core State Standards (or Common Core Learning Standards here in New York) should address these concerns. And maybe, on some level, they do. However, when students are asked to “supply evidence from the text” on an assessment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that students will understand, or even consider, what was read. “Supplying” something is much less intensive than “explaining,” and much, much less intensive than “creating.” Yet, much of the sample and real questions I’ve seen ask students to respond to a prompt by supplying (or “using;” whatever that means) evidence from the text. Even local assessments that our districts are creating appeal to students to “find” evidence, without necessarily encouraging them to “think” about it.

“Scavenging” for information has several good uses. It is beneficial when trying to review a large amount of text to determine if it warrants further, more in-depth reading/analysis. Unfortunately, the skill of scavenging has been taught and reinforced year after year under the guise of “understanding”.

I do not know if Common Core will be the push to separate scavenging for answers and reading for comprehension. But I do know this: I will be the push to separate the two in my classroom. It may take me a few tries to word the questions correctly and to teach the difference. I will provide opportunities for students to hone both skills. I will not “produce” scavenger-only type readers. Why? Because that is the change I can make.

Common Core State Standards

I became a teacher because I upon reflection of any class I took I thought, “I could have taught it better.”  I had more creative ideas, more analogies that connected the material to those who didn’t understand it, and more often than not, classmates sought me out to explain the material to them.  I enjoyed tutoring my classmates.  Some times, I even preferred tutoring to the actual class, the textbook, or even the material.  Seeing that moment when the person makes the final connection, the leap between confusion to clarity, made all hours of frustration worth it.  Those moments are what drive me.

To me, learning is all about the concepts, not the content.  In fact, after a certain point in teaching English/Language Arts (about middle school), the content in an ELA class becomes irrelevant.  Why should I teach To Kill a Mockingbird instead of Diary of Anne Frank or a play by Shakespeare?  It all depends on what concept I need to teach.  Different pieces of literature highlight different concepts.  Why is a “classic” better than The Hunger Games or Harry Potter?  There are different reading levels, sure, but whichever book will help students understand the concept the best is the most important thing.  Why should I try to force Of Mice and Men or The Great Gatsby down someone’s throat if I feel there is another book that can teach the same concepts that are presented in those books?

The hard truth is that I should be teaching concepts and skills, not literature.  And this is exactly what the Common Core State Standards advocates.  I should not teach something just because I’ve taught it for the last five years.  I should teach it because it is connecting students to a concept or skill that will benefit their future.  Once students learn a concept or skill inside and out, up and down, left to right, “100 ways to Sunday”, then they can apply that conceptual knowledge or skill to standardized testing.  Standardized testing requires deduction, for example, the concept “use of source material” can be taught using numerous texts.  Understanding this concept will enable people to detect analogies or an author’s bias in other written or spoken pieces.  The concept strengthens arguments as well as fuels counterarguments.  You don’t need to memorize content, you need to fully understand concepts.  Content simply provides context and ample examples to teach concepts and skills.

We do live in an age of “Testing…K…1…2…3…” and leading students down what seems to be a narrow focus of college and careers that forces us to ask: “are we teaching citizens or automatons?”  But here’s the thing…what other option is there that is not encompassed by “college” or “career”?  Military?  Career.  Fast Food Burger Flipper?  Career.  Pre-med? College.  World traveler? College.  College and career fit well as the two choices because of the alliteration of the two words (a concept learned in English/Language Arts).

“College” just means any learning environment.  It could be a 4-year university, a community college, or a vocational trading school.  Traveling can teach you things you can’t learn in a classroom.  So can on-the-job training.  Which leads me to “career”.  Here, “career” means any type of employment.  It doesn’t need to be middle-management, CEO, doctor, or lawyer.  A job is what you do today, but a career is a series of jobs that are somewhat planned out or occurred serendipitously.  Employment or learning environment.  Education is about empowering people to learn and do something positive and productive with their life.

The (free) public school system exists based on the idea that if people pay taxes to support education now, they are investing in the future of the world.  Of course we want to set the bar high with words that empower people to greater heights than they previously thought they could achieve.

Re-vamping the education system takes time.  It will make great strides forward and a few steps back.  But as the cliché goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Revolution starts somewhere.  Education revolution starts with me.  I may not be able to change the whole system, but I will change the lives of my students.  And for me, that is exactly what I want to do.

Guest Post: Paper or Technology?

Guest Post
Written By: Bill Lester

For the longest time teachers have been able to teach without using technology.  The “old-school” strategies were simply chalk and a blackboard, but with the advancement in the technology that we use for entertainment outside of the classroom we have surpassed, technology is having a negative effect on the learning process that is taking place.  Learning is harder when you have to unplug from technology and entertainment to listen to a lecture.  One of the many arguments in education is whether or not we should add technology to our teaching styles.  Some teachers feel that education has gone along without it for so long that students should still be able to learn without computers.  Others feel that the amount of technology that they may have to use at their future jobs means that we might as well get them use to working with it at a young age.  Both opinions have a great point.  On one hand, teaching without technology provides students with the hard skills of communication and collaboration with others that they will need in the work place.  On the technology side, most business today is done on a computer in which the consumer and producer never met or even speak to each other, so they should be well prepared with skills needed to handle the technology.  The arguments could go on all day on which strategy should be used more than another.  Why not try both?  Why not switch up strategies with the same lesson depending on the class?  Perhaps give students the choice of hand written or typed?

In my experience teaching in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, South Korea, Austria, Switzerland, and France, I have found that no classroom is the same from day to day.  Some classes work great with technology, while others work better when they put pen to paper.  Just like each teacher teaches differently, each student learns differently.  I’ve taught some classes using nothing but technology.  I have taught many classes using only pencil and paper.  I have even attempted to teach a few classes where no notes are taken and the whole class is spoken and then assessed.  The most helpful part is reflecting on what did and did not work, and then mixing together everything that worked to hopefully produce the best possible lesson plan.  Whether you decide to teach with paper or electronics, make sure that you are a leader, your students should be a reflection of who you are.  In the end we want to give students the appropriate skills that they will need to be successful.  So make sure that you are leading them in the right direction and if you aren’t sure how to do that, I’m sure you become a student yourself and study how to be a leader.

The Great Gun Debate

When I was little we had fire drills and tornado drills.  I knew stop, drop, and roll.  I reminded my parents to changed the batteries in the fire alarms in the house every spring and fall when the time changed.  I knew the sound of tornado sirens, and if I heard them at any time other than 1:00pm on the first Saturday of the month, I knew to go the basement, to shield my head and to stay away from glass.  Those were the only drills a kid in suburban Michigan needed.

I was in the 7th grade in April 1999.  I knew exactly what happened.  I was in 10th grade in September 2001.  I watched the second tower fall, live on CNN.  The words “code green”, “code yellow”, and “code red” took on new meanings.  I saw the news coverage; I saw young children taking their parents’ guns to school.  “Zero tolerance” became the go to reason for expulsion.

I was a junior in college when a gunman killed students at Virgina Tech.  Just this past summer, I had come back from a cruise with my mom and the first news we hear after docking in Miami, FL, was the movie theater shootings in Aurora, CO.  Even more recent, as I begun my student teaching, I heard from a student that there was a school shooting that morning in Connecticut.  Within minutes of turning on the TV I learned about Newtown, CT, and Sandy Hook Elementary.

Each mass shooting has been tragic.  It has devastated the friends and family of the victims as well as the shooter, the community in which it took place, and an entire nation.

With each shooting comes a reexamination of safety protocols.  Everyone asks themselves, “Are we doing enough?  What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”

The National Rife Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Wayne La Pierre thinks we need armed guards in ever school in order to protect “our children”.  In fact, his exact quote was, “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.”

Okay.  I shall call you Crazy from now on.

I will give you only partial credit for standing up and advocating that something needs to be done.  However, it is impossible to prevent school shootings.  Education is what needs to be done.  Ignoring the issues and slapping a “band-aid” of more guns will not foster a better tomorrow.

Why, you ask?  Good question, let me explain.  First, why armed guards will not prevent school massacres and then, why education is the something that needs to be done.

“Fear begets anger. Anger begets hate. Hate begets violence. Violence begets bloodshed. Bloodshed begets…fear,” said Cornelius T.Zen [in the comments].  Stationing armed guards at every public school in America will teach kids to fear going to school.  Stationing armed guards at every public school in America will teach kids that someone wants them dead, and that they are not safe without a gun. This will lead to more kids bringing guns to school, not less.  More guns=more armed guards.  How many “the gun accidentally went off” excuses will there need be before the guns get removed from school?

And if you really think an armed guard will prevent students from bringing guns to school…you really need to go visit a high school.  Students will bring a fake gun (or even a real one) to school to really test what the armed guards will do.  I would not be surprised to hear of some students who would attempt to disarm the armed guards.

Who will be liable if a guard shoots someone who they felt was a threat but actually wasn’t?  The school district?  The city?  The state?  And even if the guards were within their right to shoot a student who attempted to disarm a guard and take the gun, wouldn’t that still be portrayed as “tragedy at a school”?  Wouldn’t the next question be, “wasn’t there something else that could have been done before lethal force?”

You see, as adults, we are able to think clearly about being “properly trained and licensed”.  But high school kids?  They like to break rules.  They like to test them out, see which ones they like.  Students will smile and try to convince you to accept homework a day late because they “forgot” even though your policy is “I will not accept late homework assignments”.  They will ask you to make an exception for them.  Just look at statistics…how many youths under the age of 21 are arrested for drinking alcohol?  Drug possession?  Driving without a license?  A policy isn’t that meaningful.

Additionally, who will pay for these armed guards outside every public school?  The armed guards will only be able to protect the public schools because the federal, state, and local governments cannot force private schools to have armed guards.  There are numerous districts in Michigan that have so little money that they have outsourced bus drivers, kitchen staff, custodial staff, substitute teachers, and security.  By forcing them to pay for armed guards, you will be forcing districts to eliminate teachers or resources which leads to not-so-good education or students.  And in case you haven’t heard, we already have an “education problem” in the United States.

Lastly, how will having stationed armed guards during school hours prevent a terrorist from building bombs and blowing up schools?  A person who is determined to cause havoc will just adapt to the new circumstances.  School shootings will still occur.  Mall shootings will still occur.

Education is what will reduce the occurrence of school shootings.  I don’t mean the “guns can kill people” or “guns are bad” type of education.  I mean a good, solid education where people are supported by those around them.  When a person has access to the knowledge they seek, whether it is “how to be a marksman” or signs of mental illness, an education means people are not cast aside.  If you know someone who has an interest in guns, don’t avoid the subject or the person.  Show the person that you care about them and what they like.  Ask them questions, take them to a shooting range or a gun show.  The answer “you can’t” is so much more powerful than “you can”. And remember, if you have concerns, share them with someone.

Hindsight is 20/20, and the last thing we need is to look back after a tragedy and implement new laws that don’t address the underlying issue.

Article: Culture, Not Curriculum, May be Key to High School Reform

I agree with this article.  The “achievement gap problem” does not lie solely upon the teachers, solely upon the students, solely upon the parents, solely upon the curriculum, or solely upon the school’s administration.  It lies in the culture of the school.  Each “piece of the puzzle” puts in a certain amount of effort that is required and demanded by the school’s culture.  We will only get back what we put in.  We will only get back what we demand others to put in.

The article says it’s time to focus not on the plants we grow but instead on the soil we plant them in.  I’m a product of the good soil in this area.  I went to the local public schools for K-12.  I would love nothing more than to turn around and give that same high quality (or better!) education back to the school system that empowered me.  It was the culture of the local district that made a difference.  It was the sincerity of the teachers.  It was the hard work the teachers put in.  It was the hard work my parents put in.  It was the hard work I put in.  The least important component to me of my public education was the curriculum.


Culture, Not Curriculum, May be Key to High School Reform
Article By November 12, 2012, USNews.com

School leaders can improve student achievement by empowering teachers and engaging parents, one expert says.

Resurrecting a struggling high school is more about changing culture than curriculum, according to Charles Payne, a University of Chicago professor and affiliate of the university’s Urban Education Institute.

Schools should be places where teachers are trusted, students are challenged, and parents are engaged, Payne said Friday at an annual conference hosted by the Education Trust, an advocacy group. When that happens, students show up and teachers stick around, and that alone can boost student achievement.

“If you can get your students to … show up regularly, if you can get the teachers to stay in one school … then students have a better chance to develop, even if we hold the quality of teaching constant,” he told a ballroom full of educators and administrators. “We’ve got to stop worrying about the particular plants we are planting, and worry more about the soil.”

[Find out what teachers wish parents asked at conferences.]

Teacher collaboration, strong community ties, rigorous instruction, supportive leadership, and a safe learning climate can all help change the makeup of the soil, he said, but those elements are futile on their own. Without support from their principal, colleagues, and parents, educators who are excited about engaging their students will eventually revert back to the status quo of teaching with workbooks and answer sheets, he added.

“[They] get tired of being the hardest working person on a staff where the other teachers are almost laughing at [them],” Payne said. “You can create all the pockets of good instruction you want, [but] if the organizational environment doesn’t support [the change], it is likely to destroy it.”

[Read how high school teachers put training to work.]

School districts that have transformed their culture, often through a change of leadership, have seen improvements in graduation rates, drops in truancy levels, and increases in college readiness, he said, pointing to Baltimore City Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, and New York City Public Schools as examples.

In New York, district administrators revitalized a push toward smaller schools focused on personalized attention and community partnerships. As a result, graduation rates for minority students improved 8 percentage points, Payne noted.

Administrators in Baltimore started throwing annual block parties to connect with students, and cut down on the number of long-term suspensions. Graduation rates at Baltimore high schools are up 20 percent from four years ago, and up 26 percent among black male students, he said.

Montgomery County schools shrunk the achievement gap at all grade levels, in part because district officials moved their top talent to underserved schools, Payne added.

“There are some groups of African-American and Hispanic students who, when they get a different caliber of teachers, can turn on a dime,” he added. “Montgomery County cannot be the only place where those students exist.”

The World’s Obsession with Education

First world countries have a problem; a self-inflicted, cyclical pandemic that is plaguing the future of the planet.  Give any person a microphone and he or she will poison the human population with lots of promises they cannot fulfill, data they cannot prove, and opinions meant to induce a verbal war of words.

This lecherous virus is known as education.  No, I’m not “off my rocker”, nuts, insane, or any other name I could be called for making such an outlandish statement.  I really mean to say that education is an inescapable plague that needs vaccines created stat.

First we have to move away from the images of adorable children learning their ABC’s and 123’s.  Decontaminate yourself from what you’ve heard spewed from the mouths of politicians, angry parents, and dispassionate educators.  Take a deep breath.  Ready?

The Institution Known as Education

An education is intangible.  It’s abstract.  It does not adhere to the laws of physics; it doesn’t have mass, gravity, emit anything, or reflect anything.  You cannot see education, you cannot hear it, taste it, smell it, or touch it.  Of course, the physical representations of an education can be experienced through the senses, but it is impossible to literally watch the neurons in a brain fire and exchange information.  And yet so many countries, billions of people, are obsessed with quantifying, measuring, and blaming education for our successes and failures.

Society has named this neural process “learning” and invented the abstract concept of “education” to define, measure, compare, judge, and discriminate against people.  We have thrown down our weapons to promote peace among ourselves but have not eradicated the underlying problem:  Humans are snobs.  We have to feel we are better than at least one other person.  Societies are even more snobbish.  Think back on the wars you studied in school – in every single one there was one side that felt they were better than the other and would go to any means necessary to prove it – case in point, the Holocaust.

The institution of education is a system of standardized test scores to compare people against one another, to rank schools, districts, counties, states, and even countries.  It is how we determine a “good” education from a “poor” education.  In this institution, education is about memorizing as many facts as possible and being able to regurgitate them faster and more accurately than someone else.

But is that what “getting an education” is about?  Your percentage of “correctness” in reiterating established facts? No.  “Getting an education” is learning about the past to give your present and your future a higher probability of being able to live within your means (aka do what you want).

Politicians (and people in general) are Obsessed with Talking and not Doing

Can you even hear a newscast without hearing about “education reform”?  I hear “solutions” coming from politicians who have absolutely no knowledge of how a classroom operates or how to teach a child to read yet they somehow have “over 20 years’ experience in education”.

“Cut the budget!” they scream.  “We need more money!” they demand.  “It’s the teachers’ fault, they’re not qualified enough!” they blame.  “Everyone should pass just because they tried!” they shout.

I hear voices; I hear potential solutions; but all that I see being done to “improve education” is budget cuts, layoffs for the young, passionate teachers and inadequate, “seasoned” teachers being protected behind tenure.  Politicians and “education administrators” argue and those who suffer are those simply trying to learn life skills, a bit about the past, more about today, and the potential for the future.

The Quality of “Education”

One blogger, tom, said in his post titled, “Our Pathetic Educational System “, “Since the creation of the Department of Education, a ‘gift’ from President Carter, we’ve seen a decline in the quality of education.”

In 2006, John Stossel investigated high schools in America for “20/20” in his segment titled “Stupid in America”.  If you’ve forgotten it or never saw it in the first place, now is the time to review it.  Education myths regarding money, what is actually occurring in US high schools, and the appalling lasse-faire attitude of many education professionals will leave you questioning your local public schools.

In the 5 years since, quality has not improved.  Now the big push is quantity over quality.  High school diplomas are so common that they are nearly worthless if you want to have a decent job.  “A high school degree is no longer enough to secure the highest paying and most interesting jobs, said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates,” (Reuters).  But I’ve even heard that bachelor degrees are becoming all too common and it’s now master’s degrees that will soon be essential.  Who knows, in 10 years you might need a doctorate in fast food in order to work at the local burger joint.

My Proposed Solutions

Money helps, but don’t give it away frivolously.   Don’t just give a school $20,000 for a new computer lab – investigate their need and wants.  Do they just want the newest thing because it looks great on a press release or are they really using their money to their benefit?   Is a variety of hardware and software being purchased?  Exactly how will the technology be used?  Account for all purchases and follow-up with the teachers and the students who have used the technology.

Don’t use traditional textbooks unless you will use 90% of the book.  Skipped chapters annoy students.  Why should they lug around a 5lb textbook to read one page?  Utilize money well – buy the materials you will use, not just go with what has been used for the past 5 years.

Demand more from parents.  Schools are not forceful enough in demanding parents’ reinforcement of their child’s education at home.  They simply tell the school, “educate my kid” and then they complain about what they think their children should/should not be learning or how they want their children to be taught.  Tell the parents to stand up and be a part of instruction or sit down and be quiet.

Give teachers more liberty in their teaching methods.  Restricting teachers to a non-flexible curriculum does not foster new connections or allow for new approaches.

Back off on “standards”.  Elementary education should have standards – by the end of the grade, children should be able to do X, Y, and Z.  But secondary education should focus on lighting a fire underneath students to seek out knowledge – not bore them by repeating topics or reading out-dated books.  Standardized test scores do nothing but divide students.  Unite students by not “teaching for the test” and teaching them how to be a life-long learner.


My solutions are incomplete and possibly contain faults.  But at least I’m doing something and not just talking about changing the stoic institution known as education.  I apply these and other similar teaching philosophies to my tutoring lessons and have found them to be effective.  My students are eager to learn, quickly break away from shyness, and improve quickly.  I may not have the perfect vaccine for the Education Pandemic – but I’m researching one and using trial and error to find what works.



Reuters. “Microsoft’s Gates says high school degree no longer enough| Reuters.” Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. N.p., 28 July 2011. Web. 28 July 2011.

Stossel, John. “John Stossel’s ‘Stupid in America’ – ABC News.” ABCNews.com: Daily News, Breaking News and ABC News Video Broadcasts – ABC News. N.p., 13 Jan. 2006. Web. 28 July 2011.

tom. ” Our Pathetic Educational System .” imsickofit.org . N.p., 18 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 July 2011.

Standards-Based Education Reform

How many people skipped grades on their pursuit of a high school diploma?  A few I knew of in my elementary school, but it was not the norm.  And those I knew were never ostracized from their peers for being a year younger.  I knew one guy who by the 9th (10th maybe) had exhausted all the districts math courses.  He works for Microsoft now, I think.  I also know a few kids who have flunked grades and were forced to repeat them.  At a young age the repeaters typically had a developmental disability that hindered their progress with kids of their own age.  So what do these stories of excellers and repeaters mean?  It means there is just cause to examine not what subject matter should be taught at what grade, but to reexamine the entire education system on a fundamental level.

Standards-based Education reform rejects the traditional system of grade levels.  Abandoning labels of 3rd grade or 6th grade and allowing students to advance based on a set standard (a test passed, for example) rather than advancing to the next grade simply because there was not enough reason to hold the child back but the kid really isn’t ready for 4th grade math and reading.  Students can be at a 4th grade reading level in the 1st grade but be at a 2nd grade level in history or math.  Mastery of subjects entitles them to move on.  A detailed explanation of standards-based education reform is available on Wikipedia.

Although there have been many failures in implementing this system in a large school district, John Covington, the superintendent of the Kansas City School District, has a plan for the 2010-2011 school year he thinks will work.  Four or five schools in the district will implement a pilot program at the start of the school year, with the intention of taking it districtwide.  Covington has seen the reform’s success in a 1,700 student district in Alaksa.  The Bering Strait School District implemented the reform eight-years ago and do not plan to go back, according to an article on KansasCity.com.

Standards-based education reform sounds great on paper and has worked well in small districts, but will it work for the larger districts?  Standards-based requires a large commitment from teachers to help students at different ages understand the material.  Add into the mix all the different ways students learn, the cost of reform may simply be a numbers issue.  Smaller classrooms with more individualized attention means more teachers per school and larger commitment from teachers would require a pay raise.  Additional classrooms for the smaller class sizes would mean renovation costs.  However, if you create and plan a new district from the start with a standard-based eduction, I believe it could succeed.  In the US, our 9 month school year was optimized for allowing students to work in the fields.  But I’ve been abroad, and in South Africa, year round school makes more sense.  Every January a new school year begins.  There are 3 trimesters and in between each is a month off of school.  The teachers and students I know prefer this schedule to the one here in the US.

Coupled with standards-based education is a standardized test required to obtain a diploma.  With high school diplomas given to a warm body who shows up only half the time and fails most of the classes, a high school completion exam testing on basic skills such as math, reading, science, history, etc should be extremely easy to pass for advanced students but may be more of a challenge for others.  It would give a high school diploma more of its strength back as bachelor’s degrees are now becoming a dime a dozen.  It feels special to the recipient, but in the workplace, nearly everyone has a bachelor’s degree, now a master’s degree helps you stand out from the crowd.

But can you really define knowledge based on a test?  SAT, ACT, AP and other standardized tests really just measure how much information you can memorize and regurgitate during the exam time.  Education and knowledge is difficult to quantify and educators do their best to create a test to quantify qualitative  subjects.  There is a need for a baseline, a minimum to meet, but how do you factor in special needs?  Exceptions can be made of course, but there comes a point when the type of assistance given to one person affects those who are not given special treatment.

Traditional education standards, access to advanced knowledge and assistance to those who need it, must be revisited every few years.  But education reform does not have to start with a drastic, district wide, “overnight” change.  Teachers should reform their classrooms, influence the lives of the students in front of them and like throwing a handful of seeds, see where the seeds fall and what grows from them.  The student you affect this year, in 10 years may build upon the lessons learned from you to make a bigger impact.

1895 8th Grade Exam: True or False?

**Update** For updated links and more information, see the post Update: 1895 8th Grade Exam: True or False.

**Update** Answers to the 1895 8th Grade Exam can be found on the post Answers to the 1895 8th Grade Exam.

I received an email today forwarded from a friend about the 1895 8th grade exam.  I thought it ironic I should receive it this week as my basic skills test is on Saturday.  I wanted to share my opinion of it, but first like any good teacher – I researched its validity (for anyone who has not read the 1885 8th grade exam, I have copied it at the end of this post).  I found many claims of it being false or being true.  I found the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society’s website with a simple page with the exam information on it.  However, the plainness of the website, coupled with the “home” link invalid, lead me to believe this may be a false website. Check it out for yourself.

A little more digging led me to a creditable domain: .gov.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve (www.nps.gov) details the history behind Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse in Kansas.  The 1895 8th grade exam is on their website with the attribution of it being copied by the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and reprinted in the Salina Journal.  It confirms verbatim what is on the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society’s website.  Unable to find a picture of the actual exam means the exam contents cannot be confirmed, but with the existence of the information on a government website, I acknowledge some truth in the exam.  So as the Mythbusters say when they cannot confirm or bust a myth, it’s plausible.

The information on the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve is quite interesting about education in 1895 in Kansas.  There is a virtual tour with photos from the 1880s as well as modern day photos of the restoration of the schoolhouse to its time period.  There is a long list of the names of the teachers who taught there and their salaries.  In 1884, the first year the school opened, Dora Peer was paid $35 per month.  One heartfelt picture is of two elderly women who attended the school in the 1920s.  “Ann and Josephine remember most about their school days was the strict discipline. There was no giggling, whispering, or talking out loud unless the teacher spoke to you.”

According to NPS’s records:

* Marry or engage in other unseemly conduct during their contract.
* Keep company with men.
* Be away from their domicile between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
* Loiter in town ice cream stores.
* Dye their hair.
* Wear face powder, mascara, or lip paint.
* Wear bright colored dresses more than two inches above the ankle.


* Frequent pool halls, public halls, saloons, or taverns.
* Get shaved in a barber shop.
* Take more than one evening per week for courting (unless attending church regularly – in which case two evenings may be used).
Failure to abide by these rules will give reason to suspect one’s worth, intention, honesty, integrity. Faithful performances will result in an increase of twenty-five cents per period providing the board of trustees approves.

Male teachers were allowed to date and females could not? Ouch.  But I do not understand how loitering in the town’s ice cream stores affects one’s intention, honesty, or integrity.  Could have been in that time and place it was suspect to loiter near ice cream.  NPS also has sketched the layout of the schoolroom, of course the girls and boys had their own entrances.

Even more interesting in my research was the comments made in forums – many people believed, based upon this exam, the current education system has been “dumbed down”.  To a point I agree and to another I disagree.  In 1885 there were few (if any) regulations on education as the country was beginning to see a need to set standards.  Teachers taught what they knew and students learned what was necessary for their farming and everyday life.  A basic education was just that: basic.  But one cannot use this 8th grade exam as proof that our education system has been dumbed down.  Many people do not know the answers to the questions as the questions are outdated and people have not recently studied the material.  The brain only retains what it needs to, many memorized facts from high school and college are forgotten in favor of newer knowledge.  The same principle applies to my need to review mathematics for my MTTC exam – I haven’t used some of it in 7 years.  Additionally, some people used the example of the McGuffey readers to show our learning pace has slowed.  The readers are levels, not indicative of grades but rather where the student is in his or her education.  Grade levels were important, but children began and ended their schooling based upon their maturity level and comprehension level, not simply because they reached a certain age.  Diplomas should be awarded on merit not simply passing with 60% or to avoid any notice by the state.  Too many people graduate high school in urban communities and are unable to read their diploma.  Too many students graduate knowing calculus, physics, every detail of American history, but have no idea how to write a check or bake a cake.  High school education has pushed basic life skills aside in favor of a stricter math, physics, and ap courses, which is a shame.  Education should be well rounded and that is what I plan to do – not simply teach To Kill a Mockingbird or Shakespeare, but to see and apply the lessons in the stories to everyday life and to the future.  Break the cycle of history repeating itself.

My grandmother gave me a McGuffey reader, when I have time I’ll read through it and give my review on it.


Smokey Valley Genealogical Society. 13 April, 2010. Web.

Tallgrass National Prairie Reserve. 13 April, 2010. http://www.nps.gov.

Read the 1895 8th Grade Exam:   Curious as to its answers?  I have them right here. Continue reading