"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, May 04, 2007

FCAT As "Injurious Deception"

The swooning third-grade reading scores just released in Florida brought this editorial today in the Daytona Beach News-Journal (ht to Marion Brady). A clip:

What the numbers do show is the silliness -- no, the injurious deception -- of using FCAT scores as comparative tools in any way, whether across annual classes, between schools or between counties. Any such comparison would be a discredit to the teachers and the students on the receiving end of the resulting analyses, good or bad. Just as Volusia and Flagler schools have a right to regard their third graders' reading scores skeptically, they should do the same regarding their third graders' better math scores.

How, then, to explain the disparities in numbers? The biggest variable isn't intelligence, quality of teaching or environment. It is, every year by far, the test itself -- those booklets where the questions are never the same in two successive years. Writing test questions isn't an exact science. The biases inherently built into standardized testing, however unintended, have been vastly documented. This year's results strongly suggest the same.

None of those rationales changes the fact that in a few weeks schools will be "graded" individually based on these scores. None of those rationales changes the fact that across the state thousands of third graders will be held back because they failed to meet an arbitrary benchmark, while thousands of 12th graders won't be granted a diploma for failing their next-to-last FCAT chance to pass. Many of those seniors will have accomplished four years' course work well enough to earn a diploma. But they won't, based on a few hours of standardized testing. How productive is that, when it drastically diminishes the students' chance of getting a job?

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