Diane Ravitch, a pretty conservative educational theorist, asserts that Pearson’s Automated Writing Tests (PARCC) – graded entirely by a computer – would give high scores to the following:
“According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.”
This sentence, says Les Perelman of MIT’s Writing Across the Curriculum program, would be given a very high score by the Pearson’s automated grading system, even though it is pure gibberish.
Other test providers, such as the American Institutes for Research (AIR) – the testing company that Minnesota recently fired, are also considering automating the scoring of their writing tests.
Automated scoring of writing tests is not the only problem with standardized tests. If public schools are to be expected to educate our children to be successful in the real world, standardized tests cannot and will not assure educators and the general public that this single most important goal is being met.
Yet schools are being judged entirely by those test results.
How many of us would support a move by Minnesota to grant a driver’s licenses to sixteen year olds after they have merely passed a written examination – without also requiring them to take an on-the-road driving test?
Yet we accept this as the sole method for evaluating all of the skills students will need to be successful in the next 40 years or so of their professional lives.
This line of thinking leads to academic standards being written so that they can be evaluated by standardized tests.
Educators are then encouraged to use “data driven decision-making” (Of course much of the data comes from the test scores.) to design their curriculums and individual lessons.
And finally, we expect that those lessons – following a process of “data driven decision-making” and based upon test-driven standards – should certainly not “teach to the test.” Nobody wants to be seen as “teaching to the test.”
Really? How could it be otherwise?
We are trading educational quality for convenience.
Like academic fast food restaurants, we want our public schools to be able to use pre-defined academic standards (recipes), “scientifically-based” curriculums (certified in our suppliers’ test kitchens), and purely objective question and answer examinations graded by mindless computers (Results are then wrapped up in paper with a lot of numbers on the outside.) to rapidly send young adults into the real world or off to college with their academic sandwiches in hand.
What do we really know about our graduates? Well, if we continue to follow companies like Pearson, we will know that they can write gibberish.
Performance-based assessment systems are messy. They are difficult to standardize. They may not even be very objective. But they do evaluate whether students might have the skills to be successful. And our fine teachers will surely be able to spot the gibberish.
Isn’t that what it is all about?
It should be.
Published by the Winona Daily News on August 15, 2014 under the headline: State should rethink standardized testing