Saturday, December 10, 2011

School Board Member Takes State Standardized Test and Fails

The Answer Sheet educational column in the Washington Post had an interesting article this week.  It dealt with a School Board member in Florida who took that state's standardized test for promotion to the next grade, a test called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.  FCAT is one of the oldest of the state assessment test, and has been held up as a model to other states that are newer to this type of high-stakes testing at the state level.

The board member, who is named Rick Roach and is on his fourth term on the Orange County, FL board, had questioned the value of the FCAT and arranged to take the 10th grade version of the test himself for a first-hand experience.  He admitted that out of 60 math questions, he didn't know any of them, but was able to guess correctly about 10 of them.  On the reading section, he only scored 62%, which is a D in their system.

Before you start thinking that this guy is a dumb loser, hear him describe his educational background:
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...
Hmmm.....well, maybe he just forgot what he learned in 10th grade.  However, he seems to be doing just fine without it.  This is his point about the test:
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.
 Apparently, this experience relates to an argument that Roach has been having with colleagues on his school board.  This year, only 39% of Orange County (home to Orlando, FL and neighboring suburbs) 10th graders passed the reading portion of the FCAT.  Roach simply didn't believe that there were so many students who couldn't read, and began to wonder if the issue was with the test, not with the students' abilities.

Taking the test himself settled the matter for him.  Here are his conclusions about the test (according to the Washington Post)

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.
I think this is a great perspective on the whole rush-to-tie-everything-to-standardized-testing drive in school reform.

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