I came across a 9th grade unit test on ancient history and Islam recently. One hundred point test. Forty-five multiple choice worth two points each, then choose one of five essay questions for the last 10 points.
Of the 45 multiple choice, 17 dealt with the names of capitals, countries and land masses. The rest looked pretty much like this:
This Roman emperor changed the official religion of the Roman Empire and moved its capital to Constantinople (today Istanbul):
B. Cyrus the Great
You get the idea.
So, 90 points of this test was basically a Jeopardy game, asking isolated, disconnected (and therefore fairly useless) facts that the student could have answered in about 15 minutes using her computer or phone for that matter. Facts that, no doubt, that student spent much longer trying to memorize. Facts that, in all likelihood, that student will have little or no recollection of a year from now. Facts that, without some contextual understanding, are irrelevant.
The remaining 10 points came picking out one of the short answer questions. Here’s one:
What are the positive and negative aspects of Uthman’s caliphate? Why do you believe these aspects to be positive and why do you believe them to be negative. [Sic] Explain your reasoning.
And the student needs to know this why?
To be fair, a couple of the questions were more interesting:
Is Islam a religion of violence? Why do you believe this to be the case?
Explain the differences between Sunni and Shi’a. How have these differences led to the tensions that exist today between these two groups. [Sic]
Ten points for being able to discuss something relevant to today’s Middle East world if, and only if, the student chooses that question. So ninety, and maybe 100 points for facts that hold little value or relevance to anything important to know about the Middle East today.
This from a reputable, college prep school that parents choose to send their kids to. Spend money to send their kids to.
I have to ask, why? Why are we asking kids to do this? Or if we are asking them to do this, why aren’t we dealing with reality and letting them use their connections and networks to get the answers? (I know, not every child has networks and connections, but the kids at this school do.) What value is there in this type of assessment? What is it preparing them for?
We have to stop this. Ok?
Headmasters, teachers, parents, Arne Duncan, Pearson, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, union members, principals, college admissions officers, President Obama, board members, superintendents…make it stop.