Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

May 13, 2014

WE THE PEOPLE: The bottom line is profit

CROSSVILLE — Today, I want to discuss high-stakes standardized tests like PARCC, TCAP, the SAT, etc. We are told they measure “readiness,” “progress,” “excellence” or “aptitude.” They make a pile of money for the testing and textbook industry.

Let me begin with the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The very name (aptitude) reminds one of earlier “intelligence” tests, now pretty much discredited. The SAT has some of the same fatal flaws.

William Hiss recently proved that SAT scores predict college success no better than high school grades. Therefore, the SAT was unmasked. Something had to be done, or money spent on the SAT (or ACT or whatever) might go to hire more teachers or even give them a raise! Classes might get smaller! Your child might get more individual attention! But, don’t worry, the SAT is now being “improved” by bringing it into compliance with Common Core standards, so it must be better, right?

Next, consider TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program). This big test pretends to measure “school excellence” and was slated to measure (in part) “teacher excellence” as well.

It is so super-secret that teachers are barred from even looking at the questions. If they talk about the test, teachers can be fired and whole school districts can lose money. Parents, of course, are WAY out of the loop.

A funny thing happened this year. Teachers administering TCAP had to read an example problem on the fourth-grade math test. The “correct answer” given in the testing materials was wrong! In many cases, the kids noticed and the teacher had them change to the right answer. The teachers can’t talk about it, of course, or they might lose their jobs. The kids told their parents, and the parents started talking to each other. If the testing company (Pearson) couldn’t get all the right answers on a few example problems, what else are they scoring incorrectly?

But, isn’t PARCC supposed to replace TCAP in a few years? Will it be better? Pearson markets PARCC as well, a super-secret test that measures both college and career “readiness.” Confident, now?

The big tests claim to measure fuzzy concepts. In fact, the concepts being measured by most of these tests are so abstract that the “test” often comes to define the abstract “thing” it’s supposed to measure. When that happens, the whole exercise has no more meaning than a parlor game. People who want to measure “aptitude” or “excellence” must show that their tests measure something concrete, observable and independent from the big test.

Disgraced “reformer” Tony Bennett ordered his staff to redo the ISTEP test (basically, Indiana’s TCAP) so his favorite charter school got high marks! In Bennett’s mind, the charter was “excellent,” and if the test didn’t rank that school near the top, the test had to be changed. The tail (school rank) wagged the very fuzzy dog (the “scientific measure” of “excellence”). This fallacious practice is so common that it almost defines the way high-stakes standardized tests are developed.

Common Core and high-stakes testing are bad educational plans, but they’re good business plans. Like all business plans, the bottom line is profit.

Next month: How to stop the “school reform” juggernaut.

• • •

This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, coordinator, at jwund@frontiernet.net.

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