Good question, isn't it? And a question that I've asked myself about a million times as I've proctored my state's sixth grade reading and math tests considering how FEW of the questions on the math test — my personal weakness — I'm ever able to figure out.
More importantly, it's a question that I've wanted to see state policymakers — who seem hell-bent on tying test scores to systems of teacher and student evaluation — answer publicly.
I mean, seriously: If you are so flippin' confident that tests are a reliable tool for failing students and canning teachers, shouldn't you be willing to take those same tests and have YOUR results made public to the world?
Well, that's EXACTLY what Rick Roach — a successful businessman and current school board member in Orange County, Florida — did this year, and his results may surprise you: He earned a 62% on the 10th grade reading exam and literally had to guess at every question on the math test, eventually getting 10 out of 60 questions right.
What Rick learned from the experience ought to be tattooed onto the foreheads of every single elected official in the nation. He writes:
“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.”
Thank you, Rick — for going out on a limb and for speaking the truth about end of grade exams. Not only do they carry incredibly high stakes, they test skills that no one really cares about.
Now if only your peers in the #edpolicy world had half of your guts.