Tuesday, August 16, 2005

High Stakes Testing

Joanne Jacobs had an interesting article on her website a week ago that I wanted to take a moment to spotlight here. Many have commented to me over the last few years that taking a state test is "no big deal." Just take the test. It doesn't matter. It doesn't count for anything. But that attitude could trip up homeschoolers for years to come if people don't understand that there are those who want to "make it matter." Here's the story from Slate's Alexandra Starr in an article called "They're not stupid they're lazy."

Nothing is at stake for kids when they take the international exams and the NAEP. Students don't even learn how they scored. And that probably affects their performance. American teenagers, in other words, may not be stupid. It could be that when they have nothing to gain (or lose), they're lazy. (snip)

The NAEP is used to judge school systems and overall student performance, but the test doesn't matter at all to individual kids. (snip)

Look at Texas: In 2004, results counted toward graduation for the first time, and pass rates on both the math and English portions of the test leapt almost 20 points.
According to Julie Jary, who oversees student assessment for the state, no substantive alterations were made to the test. What changed was students' motivation: When their diplomas were hanging in the balance, they managed to
give more correct answers.(snip)

Over the past decade, the number of students taking the ACT has jumped 20 percent, to roughly 1.2 million, in large part because four years ago Illinois and Colorado began requiring virtually all its juniors to take the exam. (snip)

The legislatures in my state of Michigan are working to make their state test meaningful. (PDF Format)

The proposed test called the Michigan Merit Exam would use a combination of
college admisision, a workplace skills exam, and a social studies component. The test would first be given to students in 2007. The college-admissions test to be used isn't specified in this legislation.
When that was written the state had not yet chosen ACT. That came later. Now, the ACT will handle our state exam. Michigan State Senator Michael Switalkski introduced the legislation for the changes,

Currently, the MEAP is used by the state as the measurement to meet the annual yearly progress standard established under the No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress. The ACT legislation would replace the MEAP with the Michigan Merit Exam, a combination of the ACT and Work Keys work readiness skills test. These tests are currently used by colleges and employers to demonstrate poficiency.“

Replacing the MEAP with the ACT test would allow results to be obtained more quickly and would save parents the cost of paying for the ACT out of their own pockets," said Switalski.

"The MEAP has no bearing on whether a student gets accepted to a college or not. I think the switch would encourage students to take these tests more seriously, ultimately increasing enrollment in Michigan's colleges and universities."

And passed as Public Act 594 of 2004 (Effective: 1/5/2005) As more and more states adopt the ACT as the service of choice, the ACT then becomes the defacto National Exam. Thus, college entrance, job placement, and scholarships are all tied to this exam. That is why many states are making it mandatory. Keep in mind that this is NOT the same ACT that we took when we were entering college. This is a test controlled by the state and administered by the testing service.

While the stated goal is increased enrollment the real outcome is increased state and federal control over education. No surprise there. Something Mr. Switalkski left out of his statement but included when I debated him on WJR 760 AM a few years ago was that "testing drives curriculum." Whoever controls the test, controls what is taught. And whoever takes the test gets an advantage over those that don't. If you don't take the test you will not have the same options as others who do. Simple as that. Making a test matter to the student has been the a goal all along. With the ultimate goal being career tracking. Here's how one mother from Minnesota described the outcome of her daughter's participation on the state career test.
This year my 8th grade daughters were given the same test in the same required technology class! How many other kids are silently giving up on their dreams and
quietly slipping into a programmed education so they will fill society’s labor needs? 8th grade is way too young for some inventory to be determining what career a child should or should not pursue. What they need is a good sound academic, liberal arts education -- the kind of education where they will be free to pursue their own dreams.
That's the freedom that is being denied to so many children as testing becomes the norm and the government directs the testing. Leaving parents to find out after it's too late.

For a great website with more information please see Edaction.org. I would encourage anyone interested in their children's future and the future of education to spend some time at this site.

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