Friday, September 20, 2013


This Washington Post article isn't new, but it's been showing up on Facebook recently, which makes it new to me. It describes the experience of an adult on a Florida school board who took one of the standardized tests administered to 10th grade students there (specifically, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test).
I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “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.
I was interested to see a 10th grade math and reading test that was so tough that a school board member with "a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate" flunked it. I therefore took the reading quiz and the math quiz published with the article, which reportedly use questions from the same student assessment.

I was appalled, not by how hard the test was, but by the fact that someone who claims to have three degrees did so badly on it. I scored 7 out of 7 on the reading quiz and 6 out of 7 on the math quiz, and I do think one of the math questions was poorly designed (it's question number 6 if you're interested, it requires eyeball-guessing the area of an irregular shape).

So how does this school board member react?
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.
Having flunked an easy reading and math test, he claims that the material isn't relevant. I disagree. The math questions cover basic skills that anyone should be able to do, like multiplication, reading graphs, basic algebra, and simple geometry. This is not rocket science; he should be embarrassed by such a poor score on this test. I don't think he's stupid; I think the real reason for his failing score is that he made no effort at all to work out the answers.
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.
Yeah, I think you just described yourself there, dude. If kids are having trouble passing this test in the 10th grade, I don't think it's the test that's the problem: the system is failing to teach them basic skills.

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