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

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fresh Jersey Pineapples

We've all heard about the ridiculous question about a pineapple and a hare that showed up on this year's New York 8th Grade state exam. Pineapplegate, I'm afraid, is only going to be the tip of the iceberg (lettuce?). Gary Rubinstein, for example, has been analyzing the many flaws in New York's math exams.

Let's add this example in New Jersey to the growing list:
Can you keep a secret? 
Apparently, some third-graders in Marlboro K-8 public schools couldn’t: They were asked on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge earlier this week to reveal a secret they have and to explain why it’s hard to keep. A few came home and told their parents, some of whom weren’t pleased. 
“That is an outrageous question and totally inappropriate to ask school children,” said Richard Goldberg, 41, whose twin 9-year-old boys told him about “the secret question” after school Tuesday. “What right does the education system have to put children in such a difficult position? That was not supposed (to be) the purpose of composition writing.” 
All parents should be asking the same question, and not just about this item. What have we gained by subjecting children to this testing regime in the first place?
New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra confirmed that some version of the question — which was not to be included in students’ scores — had appeared on the language arts portion of the standardized test.
Barra said the question actually is a “field test question,” part of a vetting process in which potential NJ ASK questions are themselves put to the test. The questions, for which students do not receive a score, are included among official test questions to gather data on responses and to determine whether they are fair and should be included in scored testing, Barra said. 
Barra said this particular question has been put before about 4,000 children in 15 districts. He did not immediately release information on what other districts received the question.
Barra said the state will investigate the source of the question, which also went through a vetting process that included review by a panel of New Jersey teachers and state testing and content experts. [emphasis kine]
A word about this "vetting process": field test questions are used all the time in developing these tests. As Todd Farley points out, psychometricians look at the results of the tests to see whether they are "valid": whether the predicted number of children pass or fail the item. If too many children pass, the item may well be judged invalid.

Teachers, keep this in mind: your careers will be judged on a test deliberately designed for a set number of children to fail.
NJ ASK, along with the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) are published by Measurement lncorporated, a Durham, N.C.-based company with offices in Robbinsville, N.J., according to Barra.
More on this later. What does a parent think about this item?
“I guarantee you some children will be writing things family members and parents would have rather not revealed to the state,” Goldberg said. “They want to answer a question; they don’t want to fail. I think somebody should be held accountable for putting children in a difficult position in the middle of a test.”
Anyone with half a brain and minimal experience with children would know immediately that this question was inappropriate. It speaks volumes that it was vetted through both the testing company and the state and deemed to be worthy of field testing.

All NJASK tests should be released to the public for a real vetting, especially if the state is planning on using them for high-stakes decision making.

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