The Abacus, Sexton, and Test

What do the abacus, the sexton, and high-stakes tests have in common? Each is an antiquated way to measure. The first two are no longer used in classrooms. The last inhibits instruction and bores students. Testing in the elementary grades should be replaced with assessments that measure the real intelligences of students and inspire them to discover their talents, skills and likes.

Bad tests have been around for a long time. Below is an eighth grade test from 1885. It tests students’ knowledge of grammar, arithmetic, US history, orthography, and geography. Students in 2013 do not have the attention span of students in 1885. They cannot recall details from history like students in 1885. They cannot recite The Preamble to The Constitution like students in 1885. They cannot identify all the republics of Europe on a map like the students in 1885. Unlike this test, our students have changed.

The phrase “multi-task” did not exist in 1885. Students completed focused tasks, and their tests measured how well they could recall information from those tasks. Their distractions were books. Students in 1885 could use an abacus, knew a sexton wasn’t something dirty, and their tests measured their ability to regurgitate information. School was comparatively simple.

How students completed homework throughout the years can be used to show how their ability to muti-task has evolved. In the 1800s, students (who went to school), were required by their parents to complete their homework by candle light. Skip to the 1950 and 1960s when students completed their homework at desks by electric lamp. Parents scolded children if they read comic books while doing homework. Students from the 70s and 80s did homework in their living room watching television or listening to music. The students from the 2000s added instant messaging and email to their list of homework distractions. More recently, texting, blogging, tweeting, and Instagram-ing were added to the task list. Thus, the modern students’ ability to “multi-task” evolved.

The latest evolution is students today can “multi-project.” They can simultaneously complete complex newspaper layouts in InDesign, tutor peers in calculus and AP Biology, complete AP Chemistry questions, while discussing philosophy, and listening to pop music. They can do more at one time than can be reasonably expected to be written in one sentence. A child from 1900 may have the answer to “What are the nine rules for the use of capital letters,” memorized, but today’s student could create a PowerPoint, Prezi, music video, or even a webpage on the nine rules of capitalization. Older generations marvel at their grandchildren’s ability to work TV remotes, computers, tablets, and phones, yet kids are learning how to fill in a bubble for a scantron test in kindergarten.

Forget academic intelligence for a moment. Change the essay topic from the practical use of grammar to the impact of race in America or women’s right to vote and compare essays to see which group looks more intelligent.

Opportunities for high-quality teaching and learning without tests is possible. It is just not profitable. Students do not have to bubble, click, circle, underline, connect, or check answers to demonstrate what they know. Multiple choice, short-answer, true/false, or fill in the blank questions are not the only test forms that exist. Great teachers do more than give on-demand assessments. Mastery learning, portfolio and webfolio assessments as well as project based learning are each student-centered forms of assessment. Students should seek personal benefit, not a teacher’s validation.
There are better tools for accountants today than the abacus. There are better tools for sailors than sextons. There are better ways for students to learn than tests, but there is no better way for a test maker to profit.
High-stakes tests in the elementary levels are a detriment to student growth. Invest in providing students relevant inputs, not in manufacturing contrived outputs that are meaningless to students and their teachers. Then perhaps students could leave school prepared for the complex world they are expected to enter.

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters. (Google)
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications. (Google)
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph. (Google)
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run. (Google)
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts. per bu, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10.Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?
Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e’. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10.Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.
Geography (Time, one hour)
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of N.A.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10.Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.

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