Monday, September 04, 2006

The Three Rs

The latest SAT scores are in and they aren’t pretty. As a matter of fact they’re low, lower than anyone wants to see.

This is an unusual situation in that it’s a new test and a new essay writing section has been added. I don’t doubt that those factors played a part, and we probably shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions.

But what’s the fun in that?

OK, so I was a senior editor at a publisher who produced, created, wrote, and graded these kinds of standardized tests for individual states. Coming from that point of view only, I have a guess of why this happened. Because state standardized tests are created by administrators, who also set the curriculum, and teachers have to teach to that test. So, real knowledge is not being taught, and the kids are suffering when it comes to these national standardized tests.

Before the big push came for states to set exams for students, a standardized test was used. It was a commercial test the school system or state could buy for all their students to take. The kids in California took the same test that the kids in Alabama took. But now, that kind of general test isn’t good enough. School administrators and local Department of Education people want a test specifically created for their state. Millions, and I mean millions, of dollars later, they have a test that has been approved by the DOE and administrators. Oh, teachers have some input along the way. That is IF the school district will give them per diem and not dock their pay and give them the day off in the first place to come to the big meetings where the items (or questions) are reviewed.

But, knowledge is knowledge you say! These kids should be able to pass the tests no matter what their state tests. Yeah, except that there are many different testing companies putting out these tests. And each company has its own way of doing things and wording things. Plus, the administrators have their own standards for how things should be worded.

Let me give you a little example. One of the states we did a test for had strict rules for the stories that had to be specifically written for their reading comprehension. Some of the rules (I’m paraphrasing, but you’ll get the idea):

No single mothers.
Grandparents must always be seen as energetic and healthy.
Fathers cannot be alone with daughters.
No adult males, including fathers, should hug or otherwise touch the girls in the story.
If a mother is not mentioned in the story, a reason for her absence must be stated, such as she’s gone to the store, so that the children do not seem to be abandoned.

In addition to those parameters, we were constantly told to rewrite items that contained items not everyone has. So, no questions about cars, homes, certain toys, etc. were allowed. One item was thrown out because it was about a bookcase, and not everyone can afford a bookcase.

I hope you get the idea why this quickly turns ridiculous. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the scores are lower than in the past for the SAT. It’s not nearly as well controlled as the state test.


Jay said...

So basically the tests have to make families resemble Family Ties or The Cosbys and never Roseane or Married with Children? And absolutely, positively no Murphy Brown! LOL

"Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning'" - George W. Bush

"If you teach a child to read, he or her can pass a literacy test" - George W. Bush

Maybe there should be standardized tests for Presidential candidates?

saz said...

This is so depressing. I keep hearing about teachers teaching to the tests which I think is a huge mistake. Not their fault but this "No Child Left Behind" has become a nightmare with the way they're grading schools. You confirmed my worst fears about the new SAT tests.

Do you still have darling Phoebs?

Susan said...

Scarey stuff.

Our schools spend so much time preparing for the WASAL. Forget about the stuff they need to know...just make them pass that test. It never occured to me to wonder where the test came from in the first place.

F&W said...

I don't even know what to think about this. I'm STUNNED about the parameters you listed. Like Suan, it never occurred to me about how or why the test is written the way it is.

We don't have SATs here in Canada but each Province puts highschool kids through Provincial exams. In the end, all the Universities and Colleges care about though, is the grade for the entire course. I think that's a good thing in that it gives some kids with "test anxiety" some kind of fighting chance.

Kell said...

Yes, Chelle, test anxiety is a big issue. Some of the schools in Texas even cancelled classes a few days before the test and there were rumors that pillows were allowed so that the kids could rest before taking the next portion of the test. I don't know who it's worse for--the students taking the dumb thing or the teachers giving it.