Sixty percent of adults who took standardized test bombed

The bottom line: Sixty percent bombed the test. Translation: Of the 50 accomplished adults who took an exam made up of questions from the New England Common Assessment Program, 60 percent received a score that would — if translated to Rhode Island’s new diploma policy — put a student in jeopardy of graduating from high school.

Those were the results released Tuesday of the scores earned by  the state legislators, council members, scientists, engineers, reporters, professors and others who took the test. The exercise was staged by the Providence Student Union, a high school student advocacy group, as a protest against a new state requirement that high school seniors must reach a certain level of proficiency on the exam to graduate.

This year, Rhode Island is implementing a new policy that uses the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, as a high-stakes testing graduation requirement. Students — beginning with this year’s juniors – must earn a score of at least “partially proficient” on the NECAP to graduate from high school. The NECAP was not, however, designed for this purpose. It wasn’t even designed to assess individual students.

Because it is illegal for anybody other than a student to take the NECAP, the students designed a math test from past NECAP questions, some of which are released publicly each year.

The results were: Four of the 50 adults got a score that would have been “proficient with distinction,”  seven would have scored “proficient,” nine would have scored “partially proficient,” and 30 – or 60 percent – would have scored “substantially below proficient.” Students scoring in the last category are at risk of not graduating from high school.

Some critics of the exercise noted that adults could not be expected to know the material because it has been a long time since they studied the material, and what is important is that the student can recall information at the time they are in school. But students said part of the point of having others take a test with material they haven’t studied is that standardized tests don’t always align with what students learn in class either.

Priscilla Rivera, a junior at Hope High School and a PSU member, said in a release from the student organization:

Of course it is true that many of these professionals who participated in our event had not been prepared to take the test. But our point is, neither have we. For 10, 11, or 12, years, we have been taught to different standards. We have not been following a curriculum aligned with this test, and  we are trapped in  an education system that is failing to give us the education we deserve. If it does not make sense to punish adults for not being prepared to take this particular test, we believe it does not make sense to punish us for not having been effectively taught this material over a period of years. Give us a good education, not a test!

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · March 19, 2013