According to this blog / article:
A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America … took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.
After taking the tests, the guy said (quote abridged):
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%.
I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. … Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.
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.
It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. 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.
Yeah! That’s what I’ve been saying! As I wrote in this previous post:
… it is a waste of time for a student to be forced to study material that is unusable and uninteresting to him. This is a completely foreign concept to most people working in education, because they tend to just take the actual content for granted.
Part of me is a bit angry that this adult had to take the test in the first place to prove to himself what every sensible student already realizes and has been complaining about for years and years. (“When am I ever going to use this?” Teachers, c’mon, how can you be so comfortable teaching for a living when you can’t even answer this question well enough?) But another part of me is happy that someone out there finally gets it.
The article then goes off an a tangent about teacher accountability, which, I think, is an entirely different issue. Nobody’s really forcing teachers to do what they do, the way parents and teachers can force students to do the dumb tests and assignments they have to do. That is, the article seems to victimize teachers, when the real victims are the students, and teachers are part of the problem.
This related article makes it clearer to me why the first article diverged into the accountability issue. The test in question is the FCAT:
The FCAT, begun in 1998, has been given annually to students in grades 3 to 11 in mathematics, reading, science and writing. It is the bedrock of what is regarded as one of the nation’s most extensive and widely studied school accountability systems.
I can’t really comment too much on the FCAT or the accountability issue; I don’t know all the details. These articles sure make it sound like a really stupid and harmful system. But if it’s an issue of accountability that encourages teachers and others to question their curricula, then I’d argue we need more teacher and administrator accountability. A lot of it. Ideally, we shouldn’t — I believe a good education should be in a students’ hands more than anyone else’s — but if teacher accountability forces teachers into action (or deliberate inaction), then I’m all for it.
The real issue to me is the dumb curricula, forcing students to learn and be tested on skills and information they are not interested in and are never going to use in the real world. (I definitely have other problems with the education system, of course, but this is probably the biggest one.) Although these articles talk about the FCAT specifically, which I’ve never had any experience with, I think curricula problems exist nation-wide. If students are the only ones who have to suffer the effects of bad grades, even while they’re in the least powerful position to do anything about the material they’re tested on, nothing can change until those students themselves get out of school and do something about it, and most of them are more likely to just forget about it. Making teachers suffer for their students’ bad grades should perhaps get them to care a bit more about what specific material students are being forced to deal with, making them realize that, duh, this material is useless and is a waste of time.
Instead of connecting what we learn in school with being successful in the real world, we are doing it in reverse. We are testing first and then kids go into the real world. Whether the information they have learned is important or not becomes secondary. If you really did a study on what math most kids need, I guarantee you could probably dump about 80 percent of math scores and leave high-level math for the kids who want it and will need it.
I think this applies to many more tests than just the FCAT.