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Standardized Tests Becoming Education’s Biggest Boondoggle. Ever.

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Standardized Tests Becoming Education’s Biggest

Boondoggle. Ever.

By Linda Dobson

Parent at the Helm has covered standardized tests many times before. The following list is just off the top of my head. (There are probably many more.)

  • Standardized tests and cheating
  • Standardized tests as a big, booming business capturing many taxpayers’ education dollars
  • Standardized tests and impact on curriculum (teaching only to test)
  • Standardized tests and abbreviated or absent recesses
  • Standardized tests and impact on teachers’ pay
  • Standardized tests and children’s stress and illness
  • Standardized tests and parental right to excuse their children
  • Standardized tests as a carrot for federal funds
  • Standardized tests and No Child Left Behind “waivers”
  • Standardized tests and standardization of school policy
  • Standardized tests and not allowing children to go to the bathroom

Well, that should give a new reader some idea, though I’m sure I’ve left out some additional points. One must have at least a cursory grip on what has gone before to put today’s news into perspective by viewing “the big picture.”

Florida’s Standardized Tests

standardized testsOut of Florida – that hot-bed of politically driven schooling reform and control, comes a story about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (affectionately known as FCAT), the states very own standardized tests for kids of all ages. This is the test about which one teenager recently told a newspaper reporter, “I thought we go to school to learn the FCAT.”

Today’s story is from the Sun Sentinel. It’s titled “FCAT writing scores are a ‘disaster.'” It’s sub-titled “Educators are stunned.” No kidding.

The tests, taken by fourth, eighth, and tenth graders (eighth and tenth graders write an essay in 45 minutes), are such a disaster that “many educators demanded that the state study what happened.” Oh, good, because studies conducted by government are always quick and efficient.

But, dear parents, have no fear! “The State Board of Education has called an emergency meeting for today to consider a plan to mitigate the impact of the low scores on Florida’s annual A-to-F school grades.” Hmm, just how bad are these writing scores?

The state released the preliminary results from the writing section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test on Monday morning.

The percentage of fourth-graders scoring an acceptable score — a 4 on the 6-point grading scale — dropped from 81 percent last year to 27 percent this year. The scores for eighth and 10th-graders fell about the same on the test that requires students to write an essay on an assigned topic.

Whoa. These scores are bad enough that all of the various groups with something to lose will be tripping over themselves, turning this into a major boondoggle. Just think about how many meetings there are going to be. Just think about how many people are going to have to travel to said meetings. Just think about how many taxpayer dollars will pay for this, instead of paying to help children learn.

See also Are They Really Trying to Fix a Broken School System?

Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel said the writing scores undermine the credibility of the state’s school-accountability system, which “may not recover” if the marks are left to stand.

Volusia Superintendent Margaret Smith agreed. “How can all of a sudden our students get that dumb over the summer and score at this level?” she said.

Get that dumb over the summer? Where have the teachers been between September and February (when the writing standardized test was given). Good grief.

Governor Rick Scott chimed in:

Scott also said, “Our students must know how to read and write, and our education system must be able to measure and benchmark their progress so we can set clear education goals.”

That was helpful. Thanks, Governor. Not to worry, though, it appears the state Education Department has a plan to better educate the children.

The Education Department has recommended the state board today agree to reduce the score used in the school-grading formula to a 3.5 out of 6, as it had been in previous years. Using the 3.5 benchmark would lessen the impact of the lower scores on school grades.

Forty-eight percent of fourth-graders hit that 3.5 mark, for example, as opposed to the 27 percent who met the 4-point score.

Whoops. I guess the state Education department doesn’t have a plan to better educate the children…it has a plan to make it look like many more children did well on the standardized tests!

Troublesome Standardized Tests

The Florida school system is no stranger to FCAT troubles.

In 2006, a problem with the third-grade FCAT reading exam led to artificially inflated scores that year. That problem — stemming from questions put in the wrong place on the test — was not discovered until the following year, however, when the third-grade scores fell and were more in line with how students had done in 2005.

In response, the state pulled together a committee, and then hired outside testing experts, to figure out what happened. Vogel said something similar is needed this year to delve into the writing scores.

School administrators already were braced for lower school grades in 2012 because of a revised school-grading formula and tougher FCAT-scoring system. Student performance on FCAT is the key to school grades.

This year, the number of F-rated schools is expected to jump to more than 130 from fewer than 40 in 2011, for example.

But state simulations of 2012 grades — that took into account new scores and formulas — showed writing scores remaining fairly stable, educators said. So if the writing scores are much worse than expected, more schools could see their letter grades fall, they said.

The Education Department released statewide results only for the three grades that took the writing test. It has not yet released writing scores for districts or schools.

You do realize that all this talk about the school letter grades is a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, demanding that “all children” will be proficient by 2014. (Yeah, it’s kind of like writing a law demanding that all citizens be attractive by the first day of autumn…what are these Congress critters thinking when they pass these things?)

Despite bracing for lowered scores due to raising the bar to “pass” the standardized tests, educators are stunned. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One thing’s for sure; you can bet the farm that they’re not going to let 130+ schools close down come 2014. Somehow, some way, the scores on standardized tests will indicate “proficiency.”

But I’m left with one question that should haunt every Florida – indeed, every American parent: When will these children receive an education?

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4 Responses to “Standardized Tests Becoming Education’s Biggest Boondoggle. Ever.”

  1. Johnny Local says:

    Hi,

    I just read your Florida FCAT piece. I would be interested in seeing details of the FCAT test’s writing section, e.g., what are the students required to write about and exactly how the results are graded. Any references available? Best, John.

  2. Cristina says:

    New York is having an interesting testing issue now: field test questions. The standardized tests for elementary school children were increased from 60 minutes each day over (I think) two days to 90 minutes each day for three days. Why? So that questions could be added for the purpose of testing wording. These questions, although mixed in with the rest of the test, don’t give any points toward the child’s score.

    According to our newspaper, that wasn’t even enough. Students will be taking another test. From the article in the May 14 edition of the Journal News:

    “The test is being given by and on behalf of Pearson Education, the company that creates the state’s standardized exams, and is designed to test the wording and formation of test questions for later tests.”

    You can see the rest of the article here:
    http://www.lohud.com/article/20120514/NEWS05/305140061

    Thank you for always reminding me how lucky I am to be homeschooling!

    • Hi, Cristina, Yes, indeed, Pearson has taken over the testing world. I’ll check out the article and appreciate the link, as well as you sharing this nonsense. Can’t believe they think this is “okay.” It’s not! You’re welcome for the reminder about how lucky you are.

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