VIEWPOINT: A is for apple, B is for boondoggle…

by YouYoung Kang, Claremont resident and associate professor at Scripps College

Last week, students throughout the Claremont Unified School District started taking the state-mandated Common Core examinations in the English-language arts and mathematics on iPads purchased specifically for the purpose of testing. 

For the past year, CUSD has been holding informational sessions for parents on this new curriculum, which many have touted as the antidote to the problems of the previous STAR-testing regime.

The Common Core curriculum may indeed turn out to do some good, as it is designed to promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Of course, when my eight-year-old daughter vents her frustration at having to type in long sentences to explain what is already obvious to her (like 4 x 9 = 36), I can’t help but be skeptical.

The problem, however, is not the curriculum but the testing regime that goes with it. In order to prepare for the test, my daughter has spent countless hours in school learning how to use an iPad for testing and learning how to use the small typepad on the iPad to type in the long answers to math problems and reading questions.

And, of course, since a computer program will be grading the test, the students will eventually need to be taught how to formulate the answer so that the computer will recognize it as deserving full credit.

And there are the problems associated with using iPads in the first place. My daughter kept having the “copy” button pop up during the test. How annoying! I heard another story about a student who was left in tears because he just could not get the “compass” on the test to point in the right direction on his iPad. Or how about the class that started the exam 45 minutes late, because the entire iPad system became frozen? There are dozens more stories like this.

One could be lazy and think, oh, that’s just the way it is. But that’s just sheer laziness and lack of creative thinking. First of all, why iPads? Aren’t these the expensive toys that are fun for games and doing fast searches on the Internet, but have limited capability as computers? 

Isn’t Apple an international multi-billion dollar corporation that requires constant upgrades to their products so that perfectly well-functioning machines become obsolete? Why can’t school districts buy decent but relatively inexpensive laptops that are useful for multiple useful tasks?   

If we are serious about teaching students about technology, we would not invest in expensive consumer-oriented toys like the iPad. We would do our research and invest in more serious equipment that enables students to create sophisticated audio/visual presentations, edit a written document seriously, do graphic art, write some basic code and accomplish other tasks that I cannot even imagine.

We would purchase machines that allow students to save their work and be able to continue later, perhaps using several different programs, thereby teaching them the value of diligent work on a complex long-term project.

When I think about the valuable teaching hours given over to test preparation and the limited financial resources handed over (with no questions asked!) to Apple and to “assessment” corporations, it makes me despair about the state of public education. 

What I see are students being deprived of quality instruction from excellent teachers (and yes, they are amazing!) who care about our children and their education, so that we can add to the profits of corporations whose main priority is satisfying the greed of investors. What a boondoggle!


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