… of education. As a publicly educated Floridian, this hits home: long-time school board member of Orange County, Florida, Rick Roach discusses his experience taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), required annually for certain grade levels in public schools. Suffice to say, he didn’t do so well – 10 out of 60 questions correct on the Math section, and a 62% on the Reading. That’s an F and a D, respectively.
Rick Roach, who has a B.S. in education, a masters in education and educational psychology, and “15 credit hours toward a doctorate,” hits on perhaps the most salient issues regarding standardized testing:
Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How? I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.
What is most troubling about standardized testing regimes such as this one is their pseudo-success. The idea is that because student aptitude can be measured by this testing(and many, myself included, would challenge this assumption to begin with), higher test scores mean smarter students and, therefore, a public education system that is improving. If test scores are improving, that means public education is successful. But the important question to ask is successful for whom? Roach can personally attest that it is not successful for encouraging student learning and growth. Rather, it is successful for third party businesses who provide the testing materials and grading services, and develop ever more mathematically sophisticated measures of ‘aptitude’.
The column’s author concludes, and I think rightly, that this is a result of the corporate-driven industry that has developed around standardized testing, which is accountable to not other motivation than to make an equivocally useful but highly profitable product. It just so happens that this particular product has been embraced (enthusiastically by the Obama Administration, even) to the extent that it now can determine the course of young people’s lives. We are not talking just economics here; this industry is responsible for our childrens’ futures.
Roach raises questions regarding standardized testing (as Bob does in this post on research impact assessment) which go beyond the simple techne, or craft know-how, of evaluating student aptitude to touch on the assumptions that this testing is really yielding a kind of knowledge (episteme) – that this way of testing student aptitude is appropriate, or even preferable to other evaluative models (Montessori schools, for example). Roach broaches (I couldn’t resist!) the deeper issues regarding standardized testing regimes: is it appropriate to technologically evaluate knowledge? Is the learning process even commensurable with measurement in the first place?
The more responsible decision when faced with these choices is not to accelerate the scope and importance of testing students, but to limit the influence of standardized testing on student’s futures until we can figure out exactly what is being measured.
The real issue at hand is not education or economics per se, but how to negotiate our responsibility for the futures of millions of people. I reject the argument (tacit or not) that this is a responsibility better left to private interests.