Here is a little piece that I wrote for a local newspaper--the Blue Stone Press (May 15, 2015)--in response to an article on parents opting out of testing for their children. It was published as a Guest Analyst Opinion.

It’s sad that so many parents are opting out of the current testing, as Jillian Nadiak noted in BSP (May 1, 2015). It’s also a big mistake.

The Mistakes

Perhaps the major mistake is to assume that parents—simply by virtue of the fact that they are parents—are the best equipped to make educational decisions for children, even their own. In fact, the very reason we have schools and teachers and teacher education programs is because parents cannot effectively educate their children. Parents don’t assume they can diagnose and cure childhood illness and so we expect them to seek competent medical treatment from doctors and nurses. And there are laws that will penalize parents for not seeking competent medical care. But, with education everyone seems to see themselves as expert.

The second mistake is to assume that testing is bad. Frequent testing is clearly one of the best ways to assess student learning. Without frequent testing, it’s impossible to identify a student’s weaknesses and ultimately turn these into strengths. And isn’t that what education should be all about?
Frequent testing is also one of the best ways to assess teacher effectiveness. Some teachers and some teacher organizations, unfortunately, are objecting to this testing because it threatens to provide objective evaluation of their own performance, of their own teaching effectiveness. And much like testing is designed to promote student learning, it can also and should also function to promote teacher learning. From the results of testing, the teacher can see where he or she promoted effective learning and where improvement is in order.

The third mistake is to assume that taking tests is not a learning experience. It surely is. In taking tests students learn a multitude of skills—time management and reasoning strategies, among others—and, at least for the time of the test, are forced to think. And that’s a good thing.

The Bogus Arguments

The arguments that teacher and parent groups are raising are weak at best. One frequent argument is that the tests are bad—they don’t reflect the learning goals they should reflect. Creating tests is a difficult task and to improve tests, you need test-taking results. It’s that simple. You need to analyze tests and test scores to create better tests. No one claims the current tests are perfect but they are clearly necessary if we are ever to get to perfect tests.

Another argument is that testing takes a great deal of time and takes time away from the actual teaching. Testing actually takes a very small portion of the school semester’s time and is a form of learning. Learning to take tests is a skill that students will need throughout their professional lives. It’s ironic that we expect plumbers and electricians to have passed their respective tests, but we don’t want our own children and students to take corresponding tests.

Still another argument is that it stresses children out. Television commercials have parents begging for testing to stop oppressing their child; it’s incredible. First, it’s not the testing that creates the stress. If testing is approached as a helpful and student-friendly experience, it will be accepted as easily as a history discussion. The stress seems to be produced by administrators who put pressure on the teachers (so they look good), by teachers who put pressure on the students (so they look good), and by parents who put pressure on both teachers and students (so they look good). We need to think more of what’s good for the student. The aim of testing is not to determine who is doing well and who isn’t; rather, it’s an educational tool to help teachers teach more effectively. People universally enjoy crossword puzzles, jumbles, KenKen, and similar tests of verbal and mathematical skills, there is no reason the same can’t be true in the classroom.

The Consequences

As with any decision, there are consequences and, in this case, the consequences are not good.

First, opting children out of testing prevents teachers from discovering student weaknesses and their own weaknesses as well. Without the ability to identify weaknesses, we cannot adjust teaching strategies to achieve the results we all want.

Second, we prevent students from learning the essential skills of test taking and will leave certain students without test scores that are likely to prove significant in their further education and perhaps even in employment.

Third, those districts that do not have a sufficient number of students taking these standardized tests will be penalized by the state which may withhold certain funding. So, by opting out, parents will be denying their own children state funding. Does this make sense?

Joseph A. DeVito is Emeritus Professor of Communication, Hunter College, CUNY and—in the interest of full disclosure—is a Pearson author but has nothing to do with their testing division. He has lived in Accord for some 30 years.


Responding to Rudeness

Here's an interesting article that offers interesting suggestions for Responding to Rudeness which should work well in a class in the discussion of conversation or a variety of other interpersonal topics. Among the suggestions offered are how to respond to catcalls, unwanted and negative comments on your appearance, or friends who reveal personal information.  It would be interesting to see how students would deal with each of these several issues and if there's a gender or age difference in the responses.


Lydia Pinkham

I want to bring to your attention a new book by a friend of mine; we went to graduate school together at the U of I.  The book—Lydia Pinkham: The Face that Launched a Thousand Ads by Sammy R. Danna (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)--is about Lydia Pinkham, her vegetable compound (which is still being sold), and the revolution in marketing and advertising of which she was a major part.  Congratulations Sam; you did a wonderful job!


High Heels

According to some research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior (DOI 10.1007/s10508-014-0422-z; http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10508-014-0422-z#page-1)--summarized briefly in Psychology Today (April 2015)--a woman wearing high heels is perceived as more attractive than a women with low heels. In a series of studies by Nicolas Gueguen, it was found that: 

(1) Men were more apt to help a woman if she was wearing high heels than low heels. For example, when a women dropped a glove, a man behind her was more likely to pick it up if she was wearing high heels. Sixty-two percent of men picked up the glove of the woman with no heels but 93 percent picked up the glove of the woman in 3 ½ inch heels. Heel height, however, made no difference in terms of another woman’s helping behavior. 

(2)  Men were also more likely to approach a woman if she was wearing high heels. With no heels, it took 13 ½ minutes for a man to approach her. But, with 3 ½ inch heels, it took only 7 ½ minutes.

The researcher postulates that one possible reason for these differences is the misattribution of sexiness and sexual intent. 

Gay and Straight Relationships

Here’s an interesting article in the current issue of Psychology Today (April, 2015): Gay Love, Straight Sense: 5 Lessons Everyone Can Learn from Same-Sex Couples. The lessons are these:
1.      “Create fluid roles.” Because same-sex couples don’t have to divide roles by gender, they are free to discuss roles and to more effectively share roles. The roles are negotiated, rather than set down by society.
2.      “Sexual experimentation is good.” Same-sex couples are more likely to talk about sexual preferences and desires and are not bound by “rules” often found in opposite-sex relationships.
3.      “Keep calm amid conflict.” Apparently, same-sex couples engage in conflict in a “less accusatory, less belligerent, less domineering” manner.
4.      “We’re all surrounded by attractive others; deal with it.” Unlike same-sex couples, gay men and lesbians have same-sex friends and regularly deal with the normal jealousies and tensions these may present. Straight men and women often do not have opposite sex friends which is confining and restrictive.
5.      “Allow for breathing room when it comes to money, family—and maybe even sex.” Gay men and lesbians apparently engage in less micromanaging than do straight men and women. There is, with gay and lesbian couples, less adherence to rules established by society—same-sex couples can have separate bank accounts and don’t have to visit family in the same way that straight couples do, for example.

There is much in this article that both straight and gay men and lesbians will find totally untrue of their own relationships. The generalizing--sometimes to the point of stereotyping—often on the basis of a psychologist’s or therapist’s observations—little real research is cited—can seem somewhat offensive and off-putting to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Yet, the idea that one relationship configuration can inform and teach another is useful.


Communication and Cancer

In searching for communication issues we don’t normally talk about in our introductory textbooks, that of talking to cancer patients about their cancer is one of the most important and the most difficult. Here are a few suggestions for making communication with a person diagnosed with cancer—what you might say and what you should NOT say--a bit easier—not easy, just a bit easier.


Public Speaking Apprehension-

In looking over the literature on dealing with pubic speaking apprehension, I searched for less likely sources than NCA journals. Here are some of the things I found, not surprisingly, not that different from what we have in our textbooks:
From an article in Forbes:
1.      Begin small, with baby steps.
2.      Organize what you want to say.
3.      Slow down.
1.      Don’t expect perfection.
2.      Don’t think of public speaking as a measure of your self-worth.
3.      Avoid getting nervous over nervousness—a wonderful lesson I learned from General Semantics
4.      Don’t memorize.
5.      Don’t read.
From WebMD:
1.      Visualize yourself speaking successfully.
2.      Practice.
3.      Avoid focusing on little things that get in the way of successful speaking.
From the Mayo Clinic:
1.      Know your topic.
2.      Organize.
3.      Practice, practice.
4.      Do some deep breathing.
5.      Focus on your speech, not your audience.
6.      Don’t fear silence.
7.      Recognize your success.
8.      Get support.
1.      Visualize yourself being successful.
2.      Relax.
3.      Practice.