What happened when a Rhode Island state senator took a student standardized test?

R.I. state Senator Gayle Goldin R.I. state Sen. Gayle Goldin.

A Rhode Island state senator was one of the first of some 50 adults who have agreed to take a version of the state’s standardized test, part of an action aimed at protesting a new high school testing graduation requirement that students say is unfair.

The Providence Student Union is staging an event Saturday at a public library in which up to 50 high-powered state officials, professors and others will take a test that was designed from released questions from the actual New England Common Assessment Program. It is illegal for anyone other than students to take the actual NECAP, but each year a certain number of questions from past exams are made public.

The students are protesting a new state policy that requires seniors to earn a score of at least “partially proficient” on the NECAP to graduate from high school.  The NECAP was not designed for this purpose and students say that a single test score — even on a well-designed test — is not adequate for a high-stakes decision such as graduation. You can read more about the effort here.

Among those taking the test are Rhode Island legislators, city council members and professors. Rhode Island state Sen. Gayle Goldin (D) took the test early, and she said in an interview that she did not do well on it. “It was extremely hard,” said Goldin, who also works as strategic initiatives officer for the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. She has a masters degree, she said, and works with numbers a lot in her work.

Goldin said she agreed to take the test because she was impressed with the students who put together the experiment, and questions whether a single standardized test is useful in high-stakes situations. She said the test questions don’t “capture the depth of thought and critical thinking and creativity which is what I think we actually need in our work force.

“I would much rather hire students who have the creativity and strategic thinking to pull together this effort in which 50 Rhode Island leaders will take this test than” students who sit in class and get prepared to pass “the NECAP with flying colors,” she said.

“I think my takeaway message from this is that the test is not a good indicator of whether or not someone is going to be able to achieve academically,” she said. “It’s not a good indicator, taken on its own, to be an indicator of academic achievement or career achievement. And placing this barrier on our young men and women in our high schools without giving them the resources previously to ensure that they are going to succeed is just setting them up for additional failures.”

A reader of my original post on this student effort wrote in an e-mail that it is no surprise that adults would flunk a standardized test because they have not studied the material. “How can they argue that the tests are too hard?” this reader asked.

What critics of high-stakes standardized tests often argue is that these assessments do not in fact cover what students learn in school, and, even if they do, a single test score is not an indication necessarily of how much a student knows. If you have ever taken a test with a cold, or being hungry, or exhausted from lack of sleep, or distraught over a setback, then you know that not all scores have the same meaning. The problem is not the tests; it is what is being done with the tests.

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · March 14, 2013

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