Sunday, 22 July 2007
First dumb Britain, now dumb America

I have posted frequently (for example here, here, here, here and here) about the dumbing down of Britain's education system. Now it seems that it's happening in America too. Marc Epstein in City Journal:

Before Mayor Bloomberg starts shelling out money to high school juniors for passing their New York State Regents exams, he would do well to bring as much scrutiny to the content of these tests as he does to the quantity of trans fats in restaurant food. People who took their Regents exams 30 years ago assume that the current version of the tests is essentially the same. They would be stunned to learn how dumbed-down the tests have become. You might say that the American history Regents gives new meaning to the term “E-Z Pass.”


the 15 document-related questions are ludicrously easy. The documents include some written passages, but are mostly political cartoons and photographs. Several concern the women’s suffrage movement, such as a photograph of a suffragists’ parade showing women carrying various signs containing the word “suffrage.” The exam question asks, “What was a goal of the women shown in these photographs?” Another photo shows a White House picketer with a banner reading, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” The exam asks the student to state “one method being used by women to achieve their goal.”


The extraordinary adjustment built into the chart makes it possible to get only 20 of the 50 multiple-choice questions right and pass the Regents. It’s also possible to complete only one of the two essays and pass. The examiners have created a fail-proof test that measures nothing beyond basic reading and writing competence.


So before we allow Bloomberg and Richard Mills, the state’s commissioner of education, to pop the champagne corks over improved test results and higher standards, let’s examine the content of the product. Politicians and the public are forever demanding truth in packaging when it comes to food and other consumer products; why should they be deceived about the content of their children’s educations?

Before long, life will imitate art.

Craig Brown has written a sequel to Sellar and Yeatman's classic, which - pace, Hugh - cannot be mentioned often enough. Brown's sequel is called "1966 And All That". It is in the spirit of the original, although not as good. Like the original, it contains those spoof test papers - "Why are you so numb and vague about Arbella Stuart?", "What price glory?", "Who was in whose what, and how many miles awhat?". Many of these are updated for the new style dumbed down GCSE paper, in which candidates are spared the pain of facts or analysis and asked to empathise:

Imagine you are Adolph Hitler. It is the morning of 30 April 1945. How are you feeling? Unburden yourself in no more than 50 words. Ask yourself: where did it all go wrong? On balance, might you have better career prospects if you had stuck to being a painter?

Watch this space.

Posted on 07/22/2007 8:55 AM by Mary Jackson
22 Jul 2007
Send an emailHugh Fitzgerald

"Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall"

You had further to fall.