Monday, August 25, 2008

Let's Test the Politicians

No Child Left Behind's emphasis on one-size-fits-all standardized testing alarms many. But the cure for this federally induced craze may be to require passing standardized tests of every political candidate. If you don’t pass the test, you can’t join the fest. And to make sure no deserving individual escapes our net, aspiring high level government appointees, such as the Secretary of Education to be, would also have to pass the test battery.

The best way to go about this testing would be to make the punishment fit the crime. This means requiring every aspiring office holder to take the same tests he prescribes for others. Before being allowed to run for President, for example, Dubya would have had to pass the self-same tests he championed for highschoolers. Ten to one he couldn’t pass.

This plan really gets juicy when it’s applied to political appointees that have educational responsibilities. Let's require every aspiring state Secretary of Education to pass the battery of tests they require of aspiring teachers. Here in Pennsylvania, for example, he or she would have to pass separate NTE tests in Reading, Writing, Listening Skills, (there's a tough one for these chaps) Mathematics and Principles of Teaching and Learning. We might also want to add a content specialty test in their college major (secondary educators have to take these) or, alternatively, tests in Elementary Ed: Content and Curriculum — since they presume to tell elementary teachers what to do and when to do it. I for one, think that few chief state school officers could pass what they now prescribe. After all, they’re usually politically connected B.S. artists, not professionally trained educators.

The beauty of this host them on their own petard approach should be apparent. Officials will typically be reluctant to mandate any testing because they too will have to take whatever they prescribe.

An alternate plan is to design brand new tests for those aspiring to high office. This would be expensive and involved, but it might be worth it. We could turn to ETS and the Psychological Corporation to devise the test. They would have to craft enough items for multiple versions of the test since cheating is a particular concern.)
No Child Left Behind's emphasis on one-size-fits-all standardized testing is a concern of many. But the cure for this federally induced malady may be the hair of the dog. In other words, require every political candidate to pass a battery of standardized tests to be eligible for office. If you don’t pass the test, you can’t join the fest. And to make sure no deserving individual escapes our net, we will require aspiring high level government appointees, such as the Secretary of Education to be, to also pass the test battery.

One way to go about this testing would be to require every aspiring office holder to take the same tests he/she prescribes for others. Before being allowed to run for President, for example, Dubya would have had to pass the self-same tests he championed for high schoolers. Do you think he could pass? And imagine requiring every aspiring state Secretary of Education to pass the battery of tests they propose requiring of aspiring teachers. In Pennsylvania, for example, he or she would have to pass separate NTE tests in Reading, Writing, and Listening Skills, (The later would be a tough one for these chaps.).

An alternate plan is to design brand new tests for those aspiring to high office. We could turn to ETS or the Psychological Corporation to craft enough items for multiple versions of the test since cheating would be a particular concern. Test items would be finalized only after a painstaking vetting. Committees both inside and outside these non-profit firms would appraise and reappraise every question. In the end we might have items roughly like these:

1. Given an unprecedented federal budget deficit, the very worst course of action would be to:
a. borrow money to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure
b. cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans
c. privatize Social Security
d. tighten the nation's belt and spend only what we have

2. If an attractive intern offers oral sex a public official should:
a. quickly take him or her up on it before he or she changes their mind
b. agree, but be sure to be discreet
c. politely decline
d. sask them what they mean by "sex."

3. If, as President, you plan to have our schools emphasize “character education,” the best model to base the curriculum on would be:
a. J. Edgar Hoover
b. Richard Nixon
c. Bill Clinton
d. none of the above

4. Should a terrorist attack against the US originate in country A, the best course of action would be to:
a. invade country B
b. invade country C
c. invade country A
d. invade some damn body

Admittedly, on a test like this dishonest answers would be a problem. Safeguards are required. One possibility is to administer the test while test-takers are hooked up to lie detectors. Imagine a candidate sweating and squirming as the polygraph relentlessly tells the tale. “Is that your actual answer? Is that your final honest answer?” (Philadelphia’s infamous late Duce/Mayor Frank Rizzo once failed a lie detector test while trying to prove the device’s reliability. Evidently the polygraph was more discerning than the voters.) Alternatively, we could inject test-takers with scopolamine, a truth serum favored by secret policemen the world over. The test would be administered orally as the subjects drift guilelessly on a tripped out cloud.

Regardless of the method, however, we must be absolutely certain that our subjects are answering truthfully. And we should keep in mind that most of them would be unaccustomed to doing this.

That, in broad outline, is the plan. But it needs filling in. That’s where you can help. Tell us what you think. Should aspirants for public office take the same tests they prescribe for others, or should they be required to take brand new custom designed tests? If so should we measure wisdom, rectitude, practical knowledge, educational expertise, sexual cravings or what? And should we test just once, or longitudinally every year the person is in office? (Longitudinal testing has the obvious advantage of measuring whether or not the subject is improving while “serving.”)

You also might like to suggest specific test items. They need not be multiple choice as exemplified in this commentary. Any types of questions typically found on standardized tests are welcome. Rush your comments and suggestions to The Worm Turns Foundation, c/o Newfoundations, P.O. Box 94, Oreland, PA 19075, or post them here.

To examine these issues further, see articles at www.newfoundations.com

No comments: