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There was recently a letter complaining about STAR testing focusing on math, science, reading, etc. and overlooking music, the arts and sports, etc. I sympathize. Testing can be very stressful. I remember taking ITED (Iowa Test for Educational Development) here in California when I was in seventh grade. But unfortunately we are in an economic competition with the rest of the world and we are not winning.
While it’s true that a very few will make a good living from music, professional sports and the arts, that percentage is very, very small. Almost all will have to compete in the workforce against competition here and abroad. This may not be fair, it just is. President Obama asked Steve Jobs when the jobs he sent to China would be coming back here to America. Steve told the president, “They won’t be.” It wasn’t just a question of labor expense, it was that Apple couldn’t find enough Americans capable of doing the high-tech work that he required. This item, which didn’t claim much attention from the media, should scare us to death.
I just talked to a kid that had just passed high school chemistry with good grades. I asked him to solve a relatively easy chemical equation like we had to do routinely when I was in high school chemistry. He said they hadn’t gone that far and that he was told such things would be covered in college chemistry. This may satisfy the requirement for some liberal arts colleges, but a kid taking Chemistry 1A in a serious college may find himself not as prepared as his GPA might lead him to believe.
Tests like STAR, as cruel and stressful as they are often portrayed, are necessary to prepare students for a very cruel and competitive employment environment when they grow up. In the post-war years when we were basically the only undamaged major economy in the world, we were able to create a surreal economic environment. One where a student could graduate barely able to read and get a good union factory job at a manufacturing plant, and have the American Dream of house, car, boat in the driveway. But the world recovered and those low-skill jobs that used to pay so well are mostly overseas now. That is the reason that the gap between the well off and the not so well off is widening. Once you get past the cliché jobs at McDonald’s, you will have to have something on the ball and skills in order to achieve comfortable middle class status.
Here is where I get back to the tests like STAR. Schools can de-emphasize the tests or even get rid of them altogether, but they won’t be doing the students any favors if they do. This is because an increasing number of companies, having lost faith in the public school system, have come up with tests of their own as part of their evaluation process in the hiring of new employees. Students unprepared to handle the stress of a test will be at a decided disadvantage when taking one of these employer-generated tests. Now you can make the argument that these companies will miss out on some really good employees this way and you may be right. But the fact remains that this is a numbers game and it works for the employers far more often than not, and therefore the use of testing by employers is likely to only go up. If students are not ready for this, then their path to success will be a lot more difficult. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but as an old saying goes, it is what it is.