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School district first to permit cell phone use during standardized tests

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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