School district first to permit cell phone use during standardized tests

Teaching to the txt

Source: Green Onion News Network

The Harper Valley School Board recently adopted a new policy that allows students to use their cell phones to search for answers on state-mandated standardized tests. “There’s no doubt this new policy will raise student test scores district-wide but it will also improve our rankings statewide,” said District Superintendent Carly Moore. Cellphones will be allowed for testing periods during the 2011-2012 school year, although there could be roadblocks ahead from state officials.

Ms. Moore said the “hands-on” cellphone policy was proposed by School Board member and local realtor, Carol McMasters who said the idea came to her while talking with friends who regularly consult their cellphones. “Whenever we forget the name of an actor, or a musician, we pull out our phones and find the answer. Right away, we know without guessing. Why can’t students do the same thing?” Her husband, Larry, a self-described hacktavist, convinced her that cell phones would help kids think of standardized tests as a massively multiplayer game, in which they were cracking secret educational codes. Mr. McMaster said that he would prefer to see standardized testing eliminated and he embraced his wife’s idea as a means to that end. “If every kid in America could find the right answer to every question, maybe testing will just go away.”

The school districts plans to divert money from textbook purchases to lease cell phones for kids who do not have them. Superintendent Moore said that the percentage of students with cell phones is already high and growing. However, she added that kids who lacked so-called “smartphones” were at a disadvantage. “We are going to target kids with Nokia phones and upgrade them. ” Some schools may share phones among students. There are plans to add charging stations in classrooms. Before the standardized tests are given, students will participate in “txting and searching” exercises, led by students, and facilitated by teachers who will prepare sample test questions. “These are basic life-skills for students,” said Ms. Moore. “Plus students will be more excited to participate, rather than demoralized and apathetic.”

Roberta Gonzalez, also a board member, was skeptical of the policy when she first heard about it. “I was concerned that we are taking away the opportunity for our children to recall knowledge they had gained in class.” After talking to teachers, she became aware of how much they loathed the now common practice of teaching to the test. A social studies teacher said that he no longer taught a real subject but he found himself teaching students how to be effective test takers. He was telling them not to over think tests, but just how to make the best guess. Ms. Gonzalez came to believe that testing didn’t correlate to what students were actually learning. “The emphasis on high-stakes testing was counter-productive and preparing for tests was eating up valuable time in the classroom,” she added.

Deborah Chaney said that TV quiz shows like “Cash Cab” and “Millionaire” allow contestants to call friends or family if they don’t know the answer. “I think it makes a lot of sense to use your social network to find these kind of answers,” she said. “That”s why you have a social network.” Chaney added that many test questions were designed to trick students, which she thought was unfair. “I’d like to see them posting these trick questions to Facebook,” she added, noting there was no feedback mechanism for students to report problems with tests.

Tech guru Tim O’Reilly said the new policy allows students to tap into collective intelligence. He predicted that the market for paper-based bubble testing was about to burst. “Why are we still using #2 pencils?” he asked. “I don’t know why they can’t deliver the tests on the phone.” O’Reilly remarked that educators should think of re-directing the energy that goes into standardized testing into richer educational programs that allow students to cooperate with each other to solve real-world problems in meaningful ways.

Ned Simon, a district parent, said that the new policy reminded him of a recent dinner table conversation. “My wife and I were arguing about how long we’d been at war in Afghanistan. Dora, my teenage daughter, interrupted us, saying ‘Dad, where’s your cellphone?” It was her way of telling me to stop arguing and look up the answer.” Dora will be one of the students who will benefit from the new cellphone policy at school. She said that using her iPhone during tests could “make testing fun.” She mentioned that a number of apps she already uses when doing homework. “I use Google Maps, the Calculator, and mostly iTunes, so I’m not so bored by the assignment.”

Asked how the State Superintendent of Education might react to the district’s new policy, Ms Moore said she expects to hear from state officials. “I think they have my cellphone number,” she added. She hopes they will look at the Harper Valley policy as a pilot that can be expanded statewide. “Educators have to ask why we keep supporting a testing system that produces such failure. If we are unwilling to do change that system, then allowing students to use cellphones during testing will reduce failure immediately. Why shouldn’t we do that?”

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  • Eric M

    The older I get, the more I wish I had more things memorized.

    I think kids do need to be taught how to research and how to reason and how to think.

    But I also think that to discount memorization is a dangerous mistake. Memorization builds the foundation from which other ideas can be built. If you don’t know certain things already, you won’t even know what can be added, which weakens your ability to research new information.

    Memorization also enforces mental discipline and rigor, forcing sustained concentration. Without those abilities, students will have trouble carrying through with all manner of things.

    Learning how to learn, and learning how to research are indeed important, but that does not make memorization any less important. Tests in the early years should be primarily about proving that students have learned how to learn, and the only way to prove that is to actually learn something.

    “Learning how to learn” is of no use if it’s never successfully used to actually learn anything.

  • Dan

    Agree that today’s testing tyranny is destroying education. And I admire her spunky protest. That said, when I was a kid, they taught us to program PDPs with punch-cards; cutting edge then, useless now. But I still use stuff I memorized back then–multiplication tables, etc.–every day. We have no idea what tools they’ll need to use when they grow up; we do have a pretty good idea what bits of knowledge they’ll need to know. And learning how to learn–yes, to memorize–develops useful mental muscles, regardless of content.

  • David

    Check your source please, I can not personally validate it. Thank you.

  • Sacha

    @Eric M

    Memorization happens more fluently when you’re interested in something. Being able to seek immediate answers will cut out the frustrating element of learning and provide an unlimited flow of information – when you can conceptualize a certain fact instantly within the bigger picture, memorizing it will be much less rigid than regurgitating irrelevant facts after saying them repeatedly for a few weeks to pass a test.

  • Reuben

    I think the key is in the tag: “satire”

    And source? *green* onion news network – Are you sure it is not from

  • This move will also spur an entirely new industry sector: survivalist courses in what to do when your battery kicks out on you.

    Surely, knowing core facts is essential for higher level thinking. For instance, it’s hard to ask interesting questions when you don’t know the vocabulary of a field. (Asking: “What’s going on with that colorful doo-hickey in the sky?” will likely lead to a less interesting answer than “Why do we only see the Aurora Borealis in some places and at some times?”)

    So yes, we surely do need to know some facts. The billion dollar question is whether standardized tests are “testing” for the right facts — or if there are better ways to inspire kids (or anybody) to dive deeply into subjects.

    In the meantime, I’m gonna check my cell phone to get details about the Aurora Borealis.

  • Come on people, are you THAT gullible? Maybe someone let you all look up answers on cellphones while in school and that’s the only way you graduated, ha. As Reuben points out, it’s satire.

  • Cell phones, despite their multiple functions, are not there to educate or assist in learning. They’re being used as toys and if they’re found in classrooms, they’re confiscated and the student disciplined as the rules require.

  • Andre

    Perhaps more testing should be done on problem solving and less on regurgitating facts, putting this concern to rest. As “Eric M” said, memorization is still good for the brain.

    But, as anyone who has been through a serious engineering program can tell you that a cell phone can’t help find solutions to some of the crazy questions you can get during exams.

    Let’s see where this experiment leads.

  • Sumeet

    I applaud the use of technology – it acts as a forcing function to make test problems more real. No one right answer. Which is real world problems are.

    Will also need innovations on grading – how do you compare and rank two slightly different solutions?

  • Irene

    The standardized tests will not longer be standardized. The results from this particular district will be invalid. A cooperative effort? PLEASE!

  • Lauren

    “This is a satirical piece from the Green Onion News Network. I particularly like the “Harper Valley School Board” name and a father being labeled a “hactivist”.) But it’s probably not beyond the imaginable. While students wouldn’t have to memorize facts for standardized tests, they would also not have to be subjected to being “taught to the test”: “

    This is a satire. Check the tags at the bottom.

    The article is, however, excellent commentary on the problems with state-mandated standardized testing across the county. That’s a post for another time… :)

  • catherine

    A sad cooment to our opwn education when SATIRE is not recognized from the first sentence THEN to weigh in with all of your super educational reform ideas. Simply Fantastic. Go back and take a class before you text ONE more thing! Thanks

  • Cell phones (androids & I-phones) have been instrumental in improving virtual-gym outcomes in Florida. The virtual Globe-trekking-students have enhanced their virtual-health in Florida’s virtual-public-education goals for the next decade. (Reference: Gov. Rick Scott, The Tea Party Governor, Defunding of Education)


    Check out my satire and daily bite-me tweets by searching “#janesworld”.

  • (Satire) Great article, Dale. To take this a bit further, here is some education news from the great state of Florida:

    Android and I-Phones are also being used in Florida’s virtual-physical-education courses. Students can connect with other students around the globe. Now they can hike the Swiss Alps or the Grand Canyon from their library work-stations. These virtual-trekkers are expected to experience greater virtual-health-outcomes in Florida’s cutting-edge virtual, public education. Governor Rick Scott anticipates that this will put Florida at or near the top of a list States who are balancing budgets while enacting legislation for virtual-improvement in the state’s educational approaches.

  • My grandtwins [Morgan & Jordan] will be entering 2nd grade in September. Last year Jordan started using his Mom’s smartphone to send wise cracking text messages to his uncle – without spelling errors. He accidently sent one such wise crack message to his dad Travis who promptly responded by text with “this is your dad.” Meanwhile his sister Morgan frequently hijacked the laptop Travis uses for business. All of this was happening when they were in the 1st grade. In short – wireless devices used by their parents became exciting educational tools.
    This is the age of information!