Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lewis Terman

The history of standardized testing cannot be told without reference to Lewis Terman. He was the Stanford psychologist who drove the early development of the Stanford-Binet test. An article in the Stanford Alumni Magazine tells the story of Terman's advocacy of universal standardized testing in American education. It may not surprise readers to learn what Terman thought of Kindergarten as described in Parker and Temple's Unified Kindergarten and First-Grade Teaching, 1925.
The most abrupt break in the curriculum is that from the kindergarten to the first grade. At all other points every effort is made to bridge the gaps. The transition from first grade to the second, from fifth to sixth, etc. is almost imperceptible. Even the first year of high school is rapidly being integrated with the last year of the grammar school so as to give the child an unbroken educational path which he may traverse from the first grade to the university. The kindergarten alone holds aloof, worships at the shrine of a special methodological cult, and treats its children as belonging to a different order of human beings.

The tests of Dickson and Cuneo show how little justification there is for such an attitude. The fact that nearly a fourth of kindergarten children do not differ at all in mental ability from average first-grade children and that a fourth of first-grade children are on a par with the median kindergarten child, indicates that it would be well for the teachers of these two grades to come to some kind of understanding.
The kind of compromise educators have come to in this time in which Terman's envisioned universal application of standardized  testing as the driving force in education has come to full term, seems to be for Kindergartens to have had their special qualities squelched.

I think readers will be interested in learning more about Terman and the standardized testing movement. In his autobiography, Terman predicted, "That within a few score years school children from the kindergarten to the university will be subjected to several times as many hours of testing as would now be thought reasonable," and that certainly has come true. At one time, the flow of compromise between Kindergarten and the first grade was driven from the other direction, with kindergarten leading the way for educational reform. This was described by Miss Vandewalker as follows:
The primary teacher who visited a kindergarten could not fail to be impressed by the kindergartner's attitude toward her children -- by her cooperation with them in the spirit of comradeship and by her sympathetic insight into their interest and needs. She was impressed no less by the children's attitude toward their work, by the spontaneity of the interest, and by their delight in the use of the bright-colored material. The games were a revelation to her, since they showed that there could be freedom without disorder; the interest which the children took in the kindergarten songs made her own drill on scales and intervals seem little better than drudgery and the attractiveness of the kindergarten room gave her helpful suggestions concerning the value of beauty as a factor in education, In short, recognizing that there was possible an order of things very different from that to which she was accustomed, she determined to profit by the lesson. If the kindergarten procedure could be made so interesting, why not school procedure as well?
We know the pendulum swings back and forth between such extremes with education being driven by kindergarten on the one hand, and harsh means on the other... kindergarten when we come to our senses and remember that the world has need of poetry, music and the arts...

Make, fix and create...

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