A guest post on The Answer Sheet this month about a school board member in Florida who took a version of a standardized test and was horrified at what he found drew an unusually large readership. It could be a fluke that the post went viral, but it is more likely that the Dec. 5 post, written by veteran educator Marion Brady, hit a nerve with an audience increasingly disturbed about test-based school reform.
From many quarters, questions are mounting about the use of standardized tests to hold students, teachers, principals, schools and school districts accountable.
Scores of principals on Long Island are fighting New York state’s new educator evaluation system, which ties evaluations and pay for teachers and principals to how well students do on standardized tests. A small but growing number of parents, students and educators are part of an effort called United Opt Out National, which encourages parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. The group is planning a day of action Jan. 7. Another group of educators just started an online petition opposing standardized tests, titled “Call for Action — Educators Unite.” And on and on.
The initial post by Brady told about a school board member — unnamed — who took a standardized test with 10th-grade questions and answers in math and reading. On Dec. 6, I wrote my own post revealing that the man in question is Rick Roach, in his fourth four-year term representing District 3 on the School Board in Orange County, Fla., a public system with 180,000 students.
Roach had asked to take the FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but was told he could not, so he was given a different set of questions that were supposed to be of the same difficulty that Florida students might expect on the FCAT.
The father of five children and grandfather of two, Roach was a teacher, counselor and coach in Orange County for 14 years. He was first elected to the board in 1998 and has been reelected three times. A county resident for three decades, he has a bachelor of science degree in education and master’s degrees in education and educational psychology. He has trained more than 18,000 educators in classroom management and course delivery skills in six eastern states over the past 25 years.
Here’s what he told Brady about how he did on the test:
“I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.
“It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities. . . .
“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”
In fact, there were a lot of readers who responded to the posts saying exactly what Roach suggested: He’s been out of school too long. Others questioned why a successful businessman couldn’t pass 10th-grade math. (I looked at FCAT 10th-grade questions and couldn’t do them myself, but math has always been a crucible for me.)
Readers with the name “floridacouple” posted this in the comments:
My wife and I followed the link in this article to the published Florida FCAT Mathematics test for 10th graders administered in the year 2004. We sampled 10 questions randomly throughout the test. We were able to answer all the questions fairly easily without pen and paper in a minute or less per question. We found all the questions VERY applicable to everyday life. We both have Bachelors degrees, nothing more.
There was, too, a huge response from readers who saw this as an indictment of standardized testing.
A reader called “sideswiththekids” posted:
“1. If the test is valid, then we should be concerned that an educator can’t pass it.
“2. The test is definitely poorly constructed. Never mind the whole idea of whether a student needs to know some material; the wording on standardized tests is often ambiguous and I know for a fact that the people supplying the questions do not always know much about the topic. I ran across several historical “answers” on all standardized tests that were either ambiguous or flat-out wrong — dates, etc. And one reading selection from literature had completely changed the ending of the selection.”
Whether people can easily pass these tests or they can’t, Roach may have started something. Educator Anthony Cody blogged about Brady’s post on Education Week Teacher, raising the question of when the testing bubble will burst.
Then education historian Diane Ravitch tweeted: “Why stop with school board member? Governors, state legislators, and Congress shd take tests and release scores.” She added in a follow-up: “I challenge anyone who supports the current testing regime to take the 12th grade test for graduation and release the results to the media.”
Someone else tweeted: “Why not media folks too? Maybe let them warm up taking an 8th grade test.”
Why not media folks? This one fears she couldn’t pass it. Standardized tests, well, they aren’t my thing.
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