A Modest Proposal To Save Test Prep

When California Governor Jerry Brown recently called for fewer standardized tests and less time on test preparation, he probably expected to be praised by the education community. Instead, his proposal has been greeted with cries of outrage from teachers, administrators, and students.

A typical response came from high school teacher Jon Swift of Redwood City. “For years now I have been spending 15-20 percent of my time on test-prep, and I have it down to a science. Now the Governor wants me to teach instead? For what they are paying me? He must be back on the weed.”

Jerry Brown

What is Jerry Brown doing?!?!

Another teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, was even angrier. “Jerry Brown is attacking my livelihood. I use test-prep time to manage my on-line business, selling knitting kits, while my students are practicing filling in the bubbles completely and accurately. If we don’t have test prep, when am I supposed to take care of business?”

Superintendent David Wald of Portola Falls defended the time spent preparing for standardized tests. “Sure, there’s no real content involved in test prep, but the mental gymnastics are invaluable,” Dr. Wald said, “and much more useful than history or science. Kids aren’t interested in that stuff anyway.”

Students agreed. “They’re teaching us how to outsmart the tests, and it’s pretty obvious that’s going to help us in life,” one student said.

“No content and no homework,” added another student. “What’s not to like about test prep? What could be better than that?”

Policy analysts were stunned by what they perceived to be the Governor’s tone-deaf approach. “We are desperately trying to bring people into teaching,” said Linda Hammond-Darling of UC-Berkeley. “One of the recruiting carrots has been the 20 percent down time that test prep offers. The prospect of not having to work really appeals to the kind of people we want teaching our children. If Jerry Brown has his way, we’ll never be able to find that caliber of teachers.”

The presidents of the two national unions have taken note of the Governor’s proposal and issued a joint statement: “We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in California and will work at the national level to maintain, if not increase, the amount of time devoted to test preparation. The job of teaching is hard enough as it is. Governor Brown should try handling a crowded classroom of unruly kids sometime. If he had done that, he would know what teaching is like these days and he would be calling for twice as much test prep, not less.”

Teachers in Florida, where about 35 days of the 180-day school year are devoted to testing and test preparation, are on red alert, fearing that Governor Brown’s proposals might catch the eye of their governor.

Because spendng on test preparation materials is a multi-million dollar business, testing giants Pearson, McGraw-Hill/CTB and Kaplan have formed an organization to protect their interests and to lobby against Governor Brown’s initiative. The non-profit group, formally titled “United to Save Extended Preparation Henceforth,” can be found online at USEPreparationH.org.

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15 Responses to “A Modest Proposal To Save Test Prep”

  1. Joe Beckmann 25. Jan, 2012 at 2:21 pm #


    It’s too early for April Fool’s Day, and the winds blow cold and snow drops like test prep questions from the skies of ETS.

  2. Joe Nathan 25. Jan, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    John, you are kidding, right?

    • john merrow 25. Jan, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Why would I kid about something as important as test-prep?

  3. Larry Tietz 25. Jan, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Ok, I am glad I saw the “a modest proposal” heading again before responding. Just so I know, the quotes attributed to Hammond-Darling, et al, are fictitious?

    I know of good education professional who claimed not to “teach to the test” or do test prep, in the expectation that the test measured what was actually going on in the classroom and give him guidance on individual student needs and/or the class as a whole ! Now that might be a modest proposal! I always believed that tests that measure what we want children to learn are beneficial. Maybe test results should receive the same protection from disclosure as health and other matters!

    • john merrow 25. Jan, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      Funny coincidence, but there happens to be a Linda Darling-Hammond who teaches at Stanford. Hammond-Darling apparently teaches across the bay at Berkeley, although I have not checked with the University to see if she actually exists. I leave that to others

  4. John Thompson 25. Jan, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Its never to early for great, great satire. Did you hear the one about driving out teachers who have been determined to crack the small side of the eggs and not the big side, as was proven to be the proper best practice?

  5. rafael heller 25. Jan, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    While we’re at it, why not cull the lowest-performing teachers and feed them to needy children?

    • john merrow 25. Jan, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

      Now there’s a worthy subject for satire, but something about it seems familiar….hmmm

  6. cary stickney 25. Jan, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Surely we could get test-prep brought under “computer literacy” and free up everybody on our way to free energy and free personal hovercrafts. Put the babies in front of TV screens, put the children in front of computer screens, and leave the rest to the free enterprise system, aka ” the genius of the marketplace”. Teaching was never one of the hard sciences and it sure isn’t a money-making proposition; it is therefore an unnecessary luxury and must be long overdue for the dustbin of history.

  7. Rip Jenkins 25. Jan, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    What the heck, Merrow? This is obviously a joke, but … what’s the value?

  8. Harry Travis 25. Jan, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    The pity is that it has been within the authority and technical capacity of schools to outlaw test preparation for State or District tests beyond a maximum of a few annual hours on protocol. Journalists have not reported on such strictures. I hope it is the journos and not the educators who have been responsible for absent reporting of such strictures.

  9. Mary Lou Buell 25. Jan, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    There is so much truth in jest.

  10. Donald Bartalo 26. Jan, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    John, please stop playing games with public education. The promise of public education goes unfulfilled everyday. Please work on helping us to realize full educational opportunity for every child.

  11. Kenneth Bernstein 26. Jan, 2012 at 3:33 pm #


    somewhat sad that some people (a) lack a sense of humor (b) do not get the literary reference (c) cannot see from the invented persona that it is not a real quote

    that said, my only criticism is that unfortunately some yahoo will take the words about running a business during test prep and post something that noted education reporter John Merrow gave an example of a teacher ripping off the taxpayers. Who knows, maybe it will even come up in tonight’s Republican presidential debate?

    And that criticism is not of the piece, btw.

    Well done.

  12. CPN 25. Jul, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    Hello, its good paragraph about media print, we all be familiar with media is a great
    source of data.

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