Marion Brady column, August_4_2005
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- Subject: Marion Brady column, August_4_2005
- From: Peter Farruggio <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Fri, 05 Aug 2005 20:21:47 -0700
Published in the Orlando Sentinel
From: Marion Brady <mbrady22@CFL.RR.COM>
"We are heavily reliant on standardized testing . . ." says Bill Hiss,
talking about education in America. Hiss is Vice President of Bates
College in Maine.
"What we have learned at Bates, " he argues, "is that this may be a
monumental trip up a blind alley."
As you can guess if you've read even a few of my columns, that "blind
alley" comment about standardized testing got my attention. Like just
about every educator who's spent years in the classroom and given thought
to what was going on in students' heads, I oppose high-stakes standardized
tests. They confuse cultural differences and ignorance, aren't keyed to
real-world or adult success, lend themselves to political game-playing,
cost enormous amounts of money, short-change non-tested fields of study,
deaden or penalize creativity, hand local control of education over to
faceless corporate interests, undercut teacher professionalism, divert
attention from myriad non-educational factors affecting school
performance, and are crude measures of even simple abilities.
(Incidentally, reading isn't a "simple ability.")
Hiss was speaking on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." Just
to be sure I'd heard him right, I went into NPR's archives and replayed
his comments several times.
Whether or not you agree with his "blind alley" view, there's no question
about our growing reliance on standardized tests. DIBELS, DRP, FCAT, HSCT,
PSAT, SAT, NAEP, ACT, ITBS, CAT, TASK, and CTBS are some of those with
which many students are familiar. Your kid or grandkid probably won't be
required to take every one of them, but the consequences of their scores
on the ones they do take will almost certainly follow them for the rest of
their lives, opening some doors, slamming others shut.
The major standardized test to which Hiss was referring was the SAT - the
Scholastic Aptitude Test. For the college-bound student, this is a big
one. It's a creature of the College Board, an association formed in 1900
made up of more than 4,700 schools, colleges, universities and other
educational organizations. As standardized tests go, it enjoys
considerably more prestige than the more recent ones, such as FCAT, which
states are required to buy or build to comply with No Child Left Behind
Notwithstanding the major role SAT scores play in most colleges' selection
procedures, Bates leaves it up to students to decide whether or not to
disclose their test scores. Hiss says the policy has been in place for
twenty years, and that, in those years, about a third of applicants have
kept their scores to themselves.
Bates has kept a running record of student performance. What they've
learned from their "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is that there hasn't
been a dime's worth of difference between the grade point averages or the
graduation rates of those who did and those who didn't disclose their SAT
scores. Hiss mentioned one girl who for some reason did submit her
way-below-average score of 400 on the verbal section of the SAT, but
graduated magna cum laud and went on to get a medical degree from Brown
University, one of the most respected schools in the country.
But, he continued, Bates doesn't just suffer no ill effects from ignoring
standardized test scores. The college enjoys a more diverse and therefore
more interesting student body.
If standardized test scores have little or no predictive power for college
performance, you can bet they have even less predictive power for
performance in life. Why, then, are we so willing to use them to beat up
on kids, teachers, and schools, and let life-changing decisions hinge on them?
I really don't know. I guess it's a cultural thing. Standardized tests
produce numbers, and as a people we often seem more interested in
comparing numbers than in figuring out what, if anything, the numbers mean.
I'm not against all testing. Here's one I'd favor: Fairtest, the National
Center For Fair and Open Testing, identifies 48 professional education
organizations with policies opposed to the present high-stakes
standardized test fad. Before editorial writers, columnists, newscasters,
television producers and other opinion makers are allowed to toss off test
scores as if they actually meant something important, I think they ought
to have to make at least a "C" on a test proving they'd read and
understood the objections of the professionals in the field.
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