How Much Do You Know?

The National School Reform Test

By Stan Karp

Each year the people who run our nation’s public schools give students well over 100 million standardized tests. More high school students who want diplomas and more little kids who want to get into kindergarten have to take tests than ever before. If current trends hold, the average student in the 1990s is likely to face over 50 standardized tests in the course of 12 years of schooling (while having just two minority teachers).

With school boards and textbook publishers firmly committed to “curriculum alignment” (i.e. teaching to the test) the unmistakable message is: IF IT’S NOT ON A TEST, IT’S NOT WORTH KNOWING. Accordingly, the following information about education is presented to readers in the form schools in the 80s seem to love best: objective questions that leave no room for doubt, debate or complete sentences.

Your goal is to circle the truth with a number 2 pencil. You will have twenty minutes to complete the test. You may not look at any other part of this journal during that time. Nor may you talk, eat, go to the bathroom, use a dictionary or a calculator, or have a creative thought. You may sweat. Answers are at the end of each section.

I. The Age of Reform

  1. In 1983, when Ronald Reagan introduced “A Nation at Risk,” the report that sparked what he called “truly revolutionary” changes in schools:
    A. He hadn’t read it. (After all, it was 36 pages.)
    B. He praised it for its “call for an end to federal intrusion” into education although the report did just the opposite.
    C. He threatened to cancel a White House reception for the commission which produced the report because the study didn’t even mention the Administration’s top education priorities: tuition tax credits, school prayer, and abolishing the Department of Education.
    D. All of the above.
  2. During the last ten years of intense national concern over public education:
    A. Real federal spending on education dropped over 20%.
    B. Federal aid to private schools increased.
    C. The number of children in Head Start,one of the most successful federal education programs in history, fell to less than 1 in 5 of those eligible.
    D. The number of students served by compensatory education programs declined from 75% to 50% of those eligible.
    E. Federal money for college grants and scholarships was slashed by about half.
    F. All of the above.
  3. According to former Education Secretary William Bennett, the greatest obstacle to improving our schools is:
    A. Drugs, TV and the effects of mass culture.
    B. The gross inequalities between rich and poor schools.
    C. A rise in the number of children living in poverty to almost 25%.
    D. Teachers’ unions.
  4. In the past 10 years, 1000 school reform measures have been introduced in the nation’s legislatures. The results of these efforts include all of the following EXCEPT:
    A. An increase in control of local schools by state education bureaucracies.
    B. A decrease in the control teachers have in their classrooms.
    C. An increase from 3 to 43 in the number of states using standardized tests to certify teachers.
    D. An increase to 24 in the number of states using competency tests as a graduation requirement .
    E. A demonstrable improvement in the equity and excellence of U.S. schools.
  5. When teachers were asked about the effects of the education reform movement on their schools:
    A. 63% said their schools were the same or worse.
    B. 80% asked to see the reform movement’s parents.
    C. 75% said William Bennett needed remedial help.
    D. 68% asked how they could get a job studying classrooms instead of working in them.
  6. Which of the following statements about dropouts is NOT true?
    A. Overall school dropout rates fell significantly in the ’70s and early ’80s.
    B. Today’s high dropout rates in urban schools were roughly the same in earlier periods, except that students were more likely to leave at the elementary level.
    C. Today, dropouts earn 42% less than they did 15 years ago.
    D. Dropout rates have been pushed up by a sharp increase in teenage pregnancy rates over the past two decades.
  7. Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision outlawing “separate but equal” schooling, which of the following statements is NOT true:
    A. 63% of all black students attend predominantly minority schools.
    B. Between 1975 and 1985, the percentage of northern black students attending all-minority schools increased from 14% to nearly 50%.
    C. Over 70% of all Hispanic students attend predominantly minority schools.
    D. The number of minority teachers has fallen to about 10% of the total while the number of students who are minorities has risen to about 25%.
    E. The Supreme Court has banned federal aid to schools and educational institutions that continue to practice racial discrimination.
  8. Bilingual education programs:
    A. are a form of educational treason against the mother tongue.
    B. were cut 38% between 1980 and 1986 when about half a million immigrant students were entering the public school system each year (39% from Latin America and 30% from Asia).
    C. are under attack by people whose ancestors spoke only indigenous Native American tribal tongues.
    D. are needed to enlighten U.S. soft-drink marketers who told consumers in Thailand that their brand of soda “will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
  9. In the Spring of 1989 George “The Education President” Bush made his first proposals for education. Bush called for all of the following EXCEPT:
    A. Spending less on new initiatives than the cost of one of 133 planned Stealth Bombers.
    B. An “outlay freeze” that could cut over $3 billion from education programs.
    C. Remedial help for Dan Quayle. D. Cash “merit” awards to a tiny fraction of selected schools.

Answers: 1-d, 2-f, 3-d, 4-e, 5-a, 6-d (dropout rates and birth rates have dropped significantly for both white and minority teens in recent decades), 7-e (the Court’s 1985 Grove City decision did just the opposite by limiting the reach of federal civil rights laws), 8-b, 9-c.

II. Education Fun Facts: Who’s In Charge? Tell whether the following statements are true or false.

10. In the decade ending in 1985, student enrollment in public schools dropped by 10%, while the number of administrative staff positions rose by over 200%.

11. About 60 per cent of the superintendents and principals in inner city districts are white, although 97% of the students are minorities.

12. Male public school teachers earn an average of $2400 a year more than female teachers.

13. Nearly 70% of the nation’s superintendents voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984.

ANSWERS: 10-13. All too true.

III. Testing, Testing…

14. There are six major, nationally-normed, commercially available standardized tests used extensively by schools across the country. According to the results of these tests which of the following statements is true?
A. 100% of the states scored above average.
B. 90% of the school districts scored above average.
C. 70% of the elementary school students scored above average.
D. All of the above.

15. The WISC-R is an intelligence test used widely in schools. All of the following are actual questions from this test except one. Which one?
A. What are some reasons why we need policemen?
B. Why are criminals locked up?
C. Why is it usually better to give money to a well-known charity than to a street beggar?
D. What are the advantages of having senators and congressmen?
E. How many intelligence testers does it take to change a light bulb?

16. The following is another WISC-R question. Which answer, according to the testers, is a sign of intelligence? “What is the thing to do when you cut your finger?”
A. Put a band aid on it.
B. Go to the hospital.
C. Cry.
D. Bleed.
E. Suck on it.

17. Which of the following statements about the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is true:
A. Some Ivy League colleges require Asian students to score 18 points higher on the tests than other applicants for admission.
B. The Educational Testing Service, which produces the SAT, fired the researcher who proved, despite years of denial by ETS, that expensive coaching courses could significantly raise SAT scores.
C. Researchers discovered a blood test which appears to be better than the SAT at predicting which students would graduate from college.
D. The first SAT was developed by Carl C. Brigham who saw testing as a tool for containing “defective strains in the present population.”
E. All of the above.

ANSWERS: 14-d. The public interest group Friends of Education has filed consumer fraud charges in all 50 states against the major test manufacturers for the patently ridiculous practice of marketing tests with assessment procedures so bizarre and meaningless that theoretically everyone can score above average. 15-e. 16-WISC-R gives full credit for a, partial credit for b, no credit for c, d, or e. (For extra credit, tell which of the answers suggested for this item is the best thing to do if you’re given a WISC-R test.) 17-e.

IV. Cultural Idiocy

  1. E.D. Hirsch wrote a controversial best selling book, Cultural Literacy, in which he argued that schools were turning out cultural illiterates who didn’t know what they should. Hirsch helpfully supplied a list of “What Every American Needs to Know.” In each of the following pairs, one item is from Hirsch’s list and one is not. Identify the item that is not on Hirsch’s list.
    a. Yellow Peril/ Boxer Rebellion
    B. Mary Baker Eddy/ Margaret Sanger
    C. Chappaquiddick/ COINTELPRO
    D. creationism/ liberation theology
    E. Ash Wednesday/ May Day
    F. matzo/ pita
    G. Jerry Falwell/ Daniel Berrigan
    H. Archie Bunker/ Che Guevara
    I. Bob Hope/ Lenny Bruce
    J. Alexander Solzhenitsyn/Bertolt Brecht
    K. Bakke decision/ Stonewall rebellion
    L. Fannie Farmer/ Fannie Lou Hamer
    M. John Birch Society/ SDS
    N. Good Neighbor policy/ contras
    O 1066/ 1917
    P. Buffalo Bill/ Stephen Biko
    Q. Elvis Presley/ Chuck Berry
    R. Lech Walesa/ Nelson Mandela
    S. “There is no joy in Mudville.”/ “A spectre is haunting Europe.”
  2. In 1988, then Education Secretary William Bennett declared that “a great university was brought low by… ignorance, irrationality and intimidation.” What was Bennett referring to?
    a. The suppression of an anti-apartheid protest by right wing thugs at Dartmouth.
    b. An increase in racist, sexist and homophobic incidents on a major U.S. campus.
    c. The conferring of a honorary doctorate on Nancy Reagan.
    d. The modification of a “classic texts” course at Stanford to include works by women and people of color.

ANSWERS: 18-Hirsch’s items are first in each pair; 19-d.

SCORING: Send in your answers along with your race, class and gender, and we will send you a list of the slots in society for which you seem qualified.

Stan Karp teachers English and Journalism at J.F.K. High School in Patterson, New Jersey.