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July 23, 2013

MARCUS: Testing for a better society

Eugenia Evergreen in her extra earnest voice asked, “Do you believe in testing?” It was as if I were being asked if I believed in abortion, the right to choose, or the Grand Canyon.

I did not know if I would shock her or gain her approval when I said, “Yes.”

Clearly, she was disappointed. “Subjecting children to the anxiety of adults is wrong,” she declared.

“You are right,” I agreed. “However, testing is necessary to increase the probability of desired results. I believe in testing applicants for drivers’ licenses to make sure they know some of the rules of the road and can manage a vehicle in traffic.”

“You know I’m not talking about that kind of testing,” Genie said in what passes for flirtation in her book. I’m talking about ISTEP or some other statewide test afflicting young children.”

“I know that’s your concern,” I responded with sympathy, “but testing is the best way to gather information about a whole host of issues. If we want to find out how third graders are reading, then testing them at the end of the third grade or the beginning of the fourth makes sense.

“If we want our future voters to know the basics of civic literacy, then we need to teach the subject with the basics in mind. To find out if we are succeeding, then we should test the students. Testing verifies outputs rather than relying on inputs like hours taught.”

“It is stressful for everyone,” Genie insisted.

“Stress is something everyone needs to learn how to handle,” I responded. “Should we stop playing little league baseball because each at-bat is a stressful experience for the batter, the pitcher, and the fielders?”

In the following silence, I said, “How do you feel about drug testing for recipients of welfare, disability and unemployment compensation?

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