Take the Test!

Rick Roach took the test and started something. Roach, a four-time official on the Board of Education in Orange County, Florida, one of the largest school systems in America with 180,000 students, took the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), Florida’s high-stakes standardized test for 10th grade math and reading. And he made the results public. I simply must quote Mr. Roach’s comments from the original article:

The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.

If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail ‘cut score’? How?

I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

There you have it. An elected school board official from one of the largest school systems in the U.S., stating that standardized tests lack relevance to the adult, working world, and are perpetuated by specialists who lack perspective and are not accountable. There is actually a growing movement within and without the school system to opt out of high-stakes testing as irrelevant to any real-world application. In Fighting the Tests Alfie Kohn points out: “Don’t let anyone tell you that standardized tests are not accurate measures. The truth of the matter is they offer a remarkably precise method for gauging the size of the houses near the school where the test was administered. Every empirical investigation of this question has found that socioeconomic status in all its particulars accounts for an overwhelming proportion of the variance in test scores when different schools, towns, or states are compared.”

What Mr. Roach started by taking the test and publishing his results is actually a grassroots Twitterstorm tagged #takethetest: people are now challenging their own politicians to take their local standardized tests and publicize the result. Joe Bower actually managed to get Alberta’s Minister of Education Thomas Lukaszuk to respond to his challenge on Twitter (see a screenshot of the conversation); whether he’ll take the test or not remains to be seen.

Will you challenge your local politician to take the test? I wonder if any will respond?

Alfie Kohn The Case Against Standardized Testing
The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools
by Alfie Kohn

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