What do standardized tests really tell us.


It’s been awhile since I’ve added anything here, but it hard to decide which of the strange things I hear are worthy of being documented.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe it should all be documented.  Otherwise, if the truth does not get out there, there will be no change agents.
 
Anyway….
 
Today I heard a story from a teacher about FCAT and Florida Writes.  These tests are given annually to measure the progress of students in the school system.  Every state probably has something similar, so while the name in your state may be different, you probably can relate.
 
One of the students came up to this teacher to complain that she was not ready for the Florida Writes exams because she had not been taught how to write in class.  The teacher was shocked by this comment.  Afterall, they had been going over writing skills since the beginning of the school year and had even been doing ‘practice’ tests in which they would have to write short stories based on a ‘random’ topic just like the official exam.  The student replied back, ‘But I’ve not been here since the beginning of the school year.  I only started in September.’  Now between you and me, if she did not learn what she needed between September and now, I seriously doubt that August would have made all that much of a difference.
 
But is the problem even greater than that.  Are students being passed on from grade to grade because they receive special help during the exam?  Sure some students are evaluated as special needs children and are given more time, but I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about cheating.  What you say?  That would never happen? 
 
Well….
 
When the teacher told this same student that they would have to go down to one of the other classrooms tomorrow to find out where they were suppose to sit for the exam, the student replied back, ‘Well, maybe Mrs. xxxxxxx (name withheld) will at least help me write what I’m suppose to.’
 
Am I reading too much into that statement or do you envision the same thing happening that I am?
 
Well, last year at a different school I heard of a teacher who asked a student about a make-up test he took as part of the FCATs because he was sick the day of the test.  The teacher asked him, ‘How was the test?’
 
The student said, ‘Pretty easy.’ 
 
The teacher said, ‘What do you mean?’ 
 
The student said, ‘Well they gave us the answers.’ 
 
The teacher said, ‘They gave you the answers?’
 
The student said, ‘Yeah, they said: Question 1… a…. Which of the following objects do not have straight sides? a) a circle, b) a square, c) a triangle, or d) a rectangle’
 
Ok, so they did not use the words, ‘The answer is "a"’, and perhaps some of the kids still did not get it, but obviously some did.
 
Is this illegal?  Of course.  But try to prove that it happened.  There is a lot of pressure from states to have kids meet certain requirements.  It affects funding which in turn could affect whether the teacher keeps their job.  If too many of their kids do poorly, the teacher is blamed and kicked out.  So there is financial incentive to cheat.
 
Does this really happen.  I recently read (if you have been watching the books I’ve been reading) a book called Freakonomics.  In this book the authors talk about a study they were involved in that spanned a period of years.  They were able to ‘prove’ that cheating did occur in standardized tests.  Some of the cheaters were very sophisticated.  Others were not.  The more sophisticated, the more difficult it is to identify when cheating occurs.  However, it should be assumed that cheating does and will occur.
 
Who really loses?
 
The kids.  They learn that they do not have to learn.  They learn that they can be given the answers and grow up expecting to continue to be given the answers.  This is not the future generation we want.  This will not help America remain a world power.  This will not help these kids get and keep the type of jobs that they might aspire to.
 
Fortunately, most teachers are honest and most students have to earn the grades they receive.  But we need to do a better job at identifying those who do cheat through statistical analysis of test results over a period of years to identify in which grades, by which teachers, in which schools cheating is more prevalent and then put a stop to it.  We cannot depend on heresay.  We cannot depend just on what one or two students say.  But statistical analysis does not lie.  Let’s use technology to find these cheaters.
 
As we enter this year’s round of standardized testing.  I want you to think about that and what type of future you want our young generation to become.
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