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July 10, 2013

MARK HEINIG: Forty years of reading and math testing

Is it valuable, worthless or in between?

On June 30, the Kokomo Tribune published an Asso-ciated Press report claiming that today’s high school seniors do no better at reading and mathema-tics than their predecessors did 40 years ago. When I read this, my immediate question was, “How can we know that?”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress consists of statistical data gleaned from various sources, primarily from tests administered to representative samples of public school students in grades 4, 8 and 12. (Apparently our offspring in grades 4 and 8 did better than in grade 12.) There is also a long-term trend assessment that includes data from both public and non-public schools.

I applaud any objective measure of students’ progress yielding data that help us to better identify and meet their learning needs. Although current and recent NAEP test results can provide useful information, comparing today’s kids with those in the early 1970s can only add further confusion to an issue that is bewildering enough already.

I wish that were not true, but the teaching-learning environment and the curriculum have changed drastically since 1970. That was the year when I began teaching high school. My wife and I also became parents then. It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that everything was different. Think about it!

We lived in another world — a world of black and white television, telephones that only allowed you to make and answer calls, and adding machines instead of pocket calculators.

If you had a computer at home, it was probably an Apple I, first offered for sale to the public in 1976. If your child was lucky enough to use one at school, it was in a computer lab. My school’s lab had 30 of them for nearly 700 students. Now, many schools provide one for each student. Today, many families have several. All of our grandchildren have their own. (Our youngest is 6 years old.) The original price was a little over $650. (If you still happen to own one, don’t put it in your next garage sale! One sold at auction for $671,000 in 2012.)

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