I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Testing "Experts"

Leonie Haimson points us to this report on the New York Regents Exam:
The state is finally cracking down on the practice of teachers grading their own students’ standardized tests. The state Board of Regents, the supreme authority in education, will not permit this practice to continue beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
One can’t help wondering: What took them so long?
Audits by the state comptroller for the last two decades have shown, The New York Times points out, that schools give better grades to their own students on state Regents exams than do teams of expert scorers. It’s well known that many more students score just above a passing grade than just below a passing grade -- showing, experts say, that teachers have given them a special push over the bar. [emphasis mine]
"Expert scorers." You mean, the folks who are paid $11 an hour to grade these things right now? Hired by the companies that pay temps $8 an item to actually write the tests?

The folks who make Todd Farley's Making the Grades essential reading for anyone who cares about this topic? The ones who argue about whether grass is a "food" - and their decision makes or breaks an entire district?

This is the part of the story that's the most important, but gets the least attention: these tests are a joke, in their construction, administration, and grading. But we're going to base our entire education system around them, which leads to the inevitable result:
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a parent advocate, told me: "It’s no surprise that there have been fraudulent practices. When you threaten to close schools and discipline or fire teachers and principals, you can hardly expect to keep the system honest. You put the teachers and supervisors in an untenable position. Schools shouldn’t be closed or teachers fired because of test scores."
Haimson also laced into the city’s Department of Education over allegations made by Richard Condon, the city’s special commissioner of investigation for schools.
He submitted a report about how teachers and even a principal have cheated to enable children to score higher on tests. But Condon has been able to investigate only a handful of 1,250 allegations of test tampering. The Department of Education has refused to make the details available, insisting on investigating most of the charges itself. It declines to make the results public.
This seems like an outrageous breach of responsibility to the parents of 1.1 million school children.
Haimson says: "It’s like there’s a black hole into which these charges of cheating disappear."
It's the same black hole that sucks up the matter of vetting the actual tests themselves (matter/matter... black holes... get it? Yeah, sorry...). We blindly believe these are valid, reliable instruments, but we don't bother to actually prove it.

Could it be the army of lobbyists from the testing industry descending into the state houses have something to do with this? Or am I being too cynical again, and I just have to trust that large corporations really have the best interests of children at heart at all times?

The only ray of hope I take from this entire story is that the media is talking to people like Leonie. If that ends, we're toast.

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