Testing on Trial

I grew up in South Carolina, but I graduated before the current Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test —now the source of a security violation scandal—was implemented.

But the scandal, as reported in The State and Greenville Online, still interests me. Three teachers have had their licenses suspended (though not revoked) since the tests were implemented in 1998, and ten schools have been or are now under investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division. This security violation is a misdemeanor that can carry a 90-day jail sentence or a $1,000 fine; failure to report any security violation is also a crime, and at least one school considers their violation to be "human error" that was reported just be on the "safe side" (of the iron jail bars, apparently).

The third article that I've linked to is the oldest one, but it's the most comprehensive and it lists several cases of cheating nationwide. The devil's advocate in me just has to notice that when students cheat on classroom tests, we discipline the students and keep the tests, but when teachers and administrators assist the students in cheating on statewide tests, some rush to declare this as evidence that the tests should be abolished.

Interesting, isn't it? According to this logic, the fact that some people will always try to get around the rules could be used as support for abolishing just about any rule. To their credit, though, the school principals state emphatically that the pressure posed by the tests do not justify any "lapses in judgement" on the part of the test administrators.

California Testing Backlash

The Fresno Bee has yet another article about the testing backlash in California. The old conundrum of high-stakes versus no-stakes comes up again here — no one wants to penalize kids for their performance on tests designed to assess schools, but the result is that there's less incentive for kids to perform well on those tests, and less incentive for teachers to teach that material. If the claim that California has "no coherent system for accountability" is true, change is definitely necessary, although I have my doubts about the capability of AB2347 to produce the desired coherent testing system

Too Much Testing in California's Schools?

Another sympathetic article about over testing students in the San Francisco Gate online. The article does a good job of describing the "gantlet" of tests that school students may experience, although some of the tests that eat up so much time are not mandatory (such as the AP exams). 

A spokesman for Fair Test is once again quoted, this time with a silly comment about measuring kids and fattening cattle. California may be "ahead of the curve", and much too enthusiastic about bringing on the tests, but California's educators have not claimed (I hope) that the tests in and of themselves make kids smarter, as his comment suggests.

Opinions About Accountability

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has gathered a range of opinions about testing and accountability in the Georgia schools. I think the articles are pretty balanced, although the unintended consequences of high stakes testing are over dramatized as usual.

For example, I was dismayed to read that Betty Robinson, a principal at Simonton (Georgia) Elementary School, committed suicide in April, but I was also surprised by the decision of the AJC to publish an opinion by a schoolteacher that suggests Ms. Robinson took her life because of high stakes testing. 

I don't begrudge the teacher in question his grief and his concern. I do, however, question the judgment of the AJC editors, who apparently decided that the claim that Ms. Robinson committed suicide "at least in part because of the stressful demands placed on her to improve her school's test scores" is an appropriate assessment of the impact of standardized testing. 

There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of the high stakes testing programs, some of which are badly planned and too hastily implemented, but the story of Ms. Robinson is too profound to be reduced to just another reason to oppose standardized tests. What's more, it leaves anyone who defends standardized testing open to the accusation of being callous if they decide Ms. Robinson's death should not be taken into account when assessing the testing programs.

Seattle Hissy Fit

Juan Gato & his Bucket O'Rants discovered a nice little hissy fit going on in Seattle. Seems that a group of principals are upset because they can no longer ensure a diverse student body — meaning they can't use race as a means of student placement — thanks to a circuit court's recent ruling. This reply by a Seattle Times editorialist neatly skewers their arrogance and bluntly reminds them that, when it comes to choosing schools, race doesn't matter to parents as much as the "edu-crats" wish it would.

The "Don't They Get It?" Award

New York City school districts have been relying on Kaplan to "help" students get through standardized tests, according to Newsday. This is one of the few times that I feel the anti-testing crowd has a point and should be making their voices heard. The decision to use a test prep company undermines the reasons for implementing K-12 testing programs, and I'd be angry too if my tax dollars went to fund that.

Kimberly Swygert is a psychometrician for a non-profit standardized testing organization and is also an adjunct professor of psychology. She started her weblog Number 2 Pencil in 2002 in order to provide a psychometrician's perspective on testing issues for concerned teachers, parents, and test takers.

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