Alfie Kohn Chat Interview: The Case Against Standardized Testing – Raising the Scores, Ruining the SchoolsBy Teachers.Net Resources
From the Teachers.Net Archives
Alfie Kohn spent an hour taking questions from the Teachers.Net Community.
Kathleen/Moderator – It is an honor to introduce Mr. Alfie Kohn to our Teachers.Net community. Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and social theory. Of his eight books, the best known are Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (1993), No Contest: The Case Against Competition (1986), and The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (1999). His has written The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools, published by Heinemann. We will touch upon testing issues and reward issues.
Kathleen/Moderator – Question submitted by Jeff/OH: Mr. Kohn, what motivates you to dedicate your life to advocating against overuse of tests and extrinsic rewards?
A. Kohn – It’s a desire to affirm and support intrinsic motivation, deep understanding, and democracy in everyday life that leads me to oppose the practices that get in the way. The more one wants kids to love learning, the more one is inclined to oppose extrinsic inducements, which have been shown to undermine it.
Kathleen/Moderator – Time magazine described Alfie Kohn as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” His criticisms of competition and rewards have helped to shape the thinking of educators — as well as parents and managers — across the country and abroad. Kohn has been featured on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including the “Today” show and two appearances on “Oprah“; his work has been described on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, in U.S. News and World Report, the Harvard Education Letter, and many other magazines and newspapers.
Kathleen/Moderator – Question submitted by Kerry/NY: Does any socioeconomic group respond more favorably than others to your message about testing and extrinsic rewards? I wondered whether more highly educated parents and other members of the public might be more protective of students’ creativity and ability to learn without extensive extrinsic motivation.
A. Kohn – It cuts both ways. Tests damage low-income students by reducing their education to test prep – and even leading these kids to consider dropping out. But the tests also destroy innovative curriculum in more affluent schools… Rewards are more complicated: they are instruments of control and, as such, are sometimes preferred by low-SES adults who think it’s necessary to compel students to comply. On the other hand, affluent folks, too, can be exquisitely controlling, micromanaging each aspect of kids’ lives. I suppose it depends whether rewards are thought of as subtle or ham-handed ways of getting kids to do what you want.
Kathleen/Moderator – A question submitted by Dr. T. Stewart: ‘Alfie Kohn warns, “Every hour spent getting students to be better test takers is an hour not spent helping them to think like historians or scientists. The result is that the demands to raise standards are responsible for dumbing down our schools.”‘ I suggest that Mr. Kohn’s approach to the problem is very “linear” and would further suggest that one can teach/learn “test taking”, and “thinking like historians”, and “thinking like scientists”… all under the umbrella of “scientific thinking”. From this limited list: Logical ordering, investigation, experimentation, discovering relationships, appropriate recording and presentation of hypotheses to others, please have Mr. Kohn point out which is NOT a part of the desired outcomes? Alfie?
A. Kohn – Depends how sophisticated the test is. In some cases, where kids are examined on how many dates, definitions, algorithms, and other facts they’ve crammed into short-term memory, then “investigation, experimentation,” etc. are actually a handicap to cranking up the scores. Conversely, preparing kids to do well on the test actively interferes with the best kind of teaching. (click below to read the next page)