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Don’t blame the test

To the Editor:

When people have trouble with a test, a common reaction is to blame the test.  
Today’s ruckus over a standardized test for high school graduation is reminiscent of the alarm raised years ago over a required test for teacher certification.  

Some applicants were flunking the teacher certification test. So in 1991 the General Assembly passed a law declaring that no one may be denied teacher certification for flunking a test.

Another response to educational difficulty is to question the relevance of the material. I frequently taught a general education college math course – largely arithmetic. And I’ll never forget the day a student asked me after class, “Why do I need to learn about percentages? I’m not going to be a mathematician.” I suggested that she might have to do her income tax someday. “Oh no,” she explained, “my dad does my taxes.”  

Difficulty with arithmetic can produce strange results. Today, 100 taxicabs are operating in Rhode Island with rates posted on their fenders. After the first tenth of a mile, the fare for each additional tenth of a mile is said to be 25 cents. Apparently even the company CEOs can’t see the absurdity of this. What will a cab driver do if someday a customer insists on paying only the advertised rate? (I pointed out the blunder some years ago, but it made little difference.)  

Another important skill for high school graduates should be the ability to understand English. Difficulty in understanding sentences has led to numerous defective RI laws. Here are just three examples:

A 1988 bill eliminated liquidity reserve requirements for credit union savings accounts, and this contributed to Rhode Island’s subsequent credit union collapse. Legislators were told that the bill would “increase” liquidity reserve mandates. The majority accepted that false description instead of reading and understanding the bill.

Other laws on the books today make little sense. For example, RIGL 11-47-42 makes it illegal to possess a blackjack. Then it goes on to say you must not sell a blackjack to a child unless he brings a note from his parent.

Another mind-boggling law is RIGL 17-25-21. A candidate in a primary election who would be eligible to receive public funds in the general election must not spend more in the primary than the total spent by his or her primary opponents. Try to make sense of that!

These last two laws passed more than 20 years ago have survived several attempts to fix them.

Instead of attacking Education Commissioner Deborah Gist for trying to raise graduation standards, perhaps we should thank her for sticking with it in spite of all the howls.

Rod Driver

Richmond


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