]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]         MULTIPLE CHOICE FLUNKS OUT       [[[[[[[[[[[[   
         by Jacques Barzun (cultural critic and historian)  (11/2/88) 
                 Op-Ed Page, The New York Times 10-11-88
                [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 07656GAED]

          Many  things  have  been urged  upon the  beleaguered  public 
        schools:  install  computers, reduce class size,  pay  teachers 
        better  and respect them more and give them bodyguards,  reform 
        teacher  training, restore the principal's authority, purge the 
        bureaucracy  and  reduce paperwork, stick to the  basics,  stop 
        "social promotion," kill social studies and bring back history, 
        and (the latest plan) pay  kids not to drop out or play truant.
          Except for the last, all these ideas have merit and some  are 
        being  tried.   But  to the best of my  knowledge  the  central 
        feature of modern schooling has never been taken up: the multi-
        choice test.
          This  test  and its variants--filling in  words,  rearranging 
        items,  etc.--dominates teachers' and students' minds. [Is this
        really what's  going on  in todays' classrooms?  Good God!  BG]
        Passing and failing, ratings of teachers and schools,  national 
        and state rankings, the rise and fall of literacy, admission to 
        college  and other institutions--all hang upon this  instrument 
        peculiar to our century.
          It  is  harmful to learning and teaching.  Yes,  I  know  the 
        arguments  in favor of these "objective" tests:  They are  easy 
        to  grade;  uniformity and unmistakable answers  answers  imply 
        fairness;  one can compare performance over time and guage  the 
        results of programs; the validity of questions is statistically 
        tested  and the performance of students is followed up  through 
        later years.
          If the tests do test what is suppossed, such advantages  look 
        overwhelming,  and it must seem perverse to call them  harmful.  
        But  since their adoption, the results of the huge  effort  and 
        expense   of   public  schooling  have  been  less   and   less 
          Many  studies  have shown the failure of our  schools:   High 
        school  graduates cannot read or write acceptably, do not  know 
        which  half of the 19th century Lincoln was President  and  can 
        hardly identify four states on the map.
          What  has this to do with mechanical testing?   Simply  this:  
        Multiple-choice questions test nothing but  passive-recognition 
        knowledge, not active usable knowledge.
          Knowing  something  means the power to summon  up  facts  and 
        their significance in the right relations.  Mechanical  testing 
        does not foster this power.  It is one thing to pick out Valley 
        Forge,  not  Dobbs  Ferry or Little Rock, as  the  place  where 
        George Washington made his winter headquarters;  it is another, 
        first, to think of Valley Forge and then to say why he chose it 
        rather than Philadelphia, where it was warmer.
          In subjects  that require  something other than information--
        the   development  of  skill,  as  in  reading,   writing   and 
        mathematics--straining   toward  a  plausible  choice  is   not 
        instructional.  Nobody ever learned to write better by  filling 
        in the blanks with proffered verbs and adjectives.  To write is 
        to fill a totally blank sheet with words of your own.
          Multiple-choice tests, whether of fact or skill, break up the 
        unity  of  knowledge and isolate the pieces; in  them,  nothing 
        follows on anything else, and a  student's mind must keep jump-
          True  testing  elicits the pattern  originally  learned.   An 
        essay  examination  reinforces pattern-making.   Ability  shows 
        itself not in the number of accurate "hits" but in the  extent, 
        coherence and verbal accuracy of each whole answer.
          Science and  math consists of similiar clusters  of  thought, 
        and,  in all subjects, composing organised statements  requires 
        full-blown thinking.  Objective tests ask only for sorting.  So 
        true  is this that some schools have had to set up "courses  in 
        thinking"--as if thinking could or should be taught apart  from 
        curriculum subjects.  
          This  is  where  the lost art of framing  and  grading  essay 
        questions comes in; such examinations imply what teaching  aims 
          Thirty  years ago the physicist and teacher  Banesh  Hoffmann 
        wrote  a book, "The Tyranny of Testing," which was attacked  by 
        the  test-making  industry and ignored  by  educationists.   It 
        showed  how  multiple-choice  questions,  by  their  form   and 
        substance, work against the aim of teaching.
          He  pointed  out  that  these  questions  penalize  the  more 
        imaginative  and favor those who are content to collect  facts.  
        Therefore, multiple-choice test statistics, in all their  uses, 
        are misleading.
          Instead of forcing--and coaching--young minds in form-filling 
        exercises,  telling  them "choose and take a  chance,"  schools 
        would be well advised to return to Ralph Waldo Emerson's  "Tell 
        us what you know."

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