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February 3, 2004

at the Educational Testing Service

I'm in Princeton, NJ, staying for 24 hours at the headquarters of the ETS, the people who bring you the SAT and your other favorite standardized tests. I'm here with a group of civic education advocates, trying to learn more about testing. A system of high-stakes testing may be good or bad for education in general (I'm genuinely unsure about that). For civic education, it poses three problems:

1) Civic and political knowledge is usually not tested, at least not with high-stakes exams. What isn't tested, isn't taught. But even enthusiastic proponents of standards and accountability are leery about piling a civics exam on top of all the other tests. There is thus a serious danger that we will lose civics from the curriculum.
2) Civic knowledge, while important, isn't all we care about. We also want students to develop civic attitudes, values, habits, skills, and behaviors. Yet we don't know how to test these things.
3) A good approach to civic education is to involve students, teachers, staff, parents, and community-members in the governance of schools. But to the extent that important policy issues are determined by standards and tests, there are fewer important decisions to be made locally.

Nevertheless, there may be ways to infuse some civic content into the existing system, and that's what I'm at ETS to explore.

February 3, 2004 8:00 AM | category: advocating civic education | Comments


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