Saturday, December 10, 2011

Questioning the Accuracy of Standardized Tests

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently in education news, Rick Roach, a school board member for Orange County Florida’s District 3, took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The FCAT is given to students in 10th grade and students are required to do well on it to receive a diploma. Rick Roach, a highly educated and successful education professional, took a math section of the test, as well as a four part reading section. In the math section, he answered 10 of 60 questions correctly and on the reading section scored a “D.” If he were to be taking this test as a student, he would not receive a diploma and he described how this test would affect his future in education as a student. A lot of faith is being put into this standardized test, but results show that there are either problems with students taking the test or problems with the material on the test.

Some people may argue that Roach is too far out of school to remember the sort of information tested on 10th grade students. It is true that a lot of the material taught in high school is not used on a daily basis by people in their occupations, especially math. To address math as an issue, the level of math tested on a standardized test should not be too high. The SAT, a test widely used by colleges across America, does not exceed a level of math beyond simple pre-calculus. Therefore, the standardized tests that are being given to students should not either. Judging by the Roach’s failing result on the math section of the FCAT, it is hard to believe that the test assesses algebra and simple equations. If an educator is doing this poorly on a test, students are also expected to struggle. Therefore, the math section of the FCAT definitely needs some revision.

Another problem posed by Roach is the difficulty of the reading section. A professional in education with two Masters Degrees scored a “D” on the FCAT. This raises more problems than the math section. Unlike complex math, a lot of jobs require reading on a daily basis and this is no exception for a past teacher and counselor. It is perplexing that such a well-educated individual would score so poorly on reading. This is without a doubt a huge problem with the test. The reading section also needs to be redone to improve the test's results.

One way to revise this test is to look at how other tests are designed. For example, the SAT is intricately designed so that an average student scores around a 500 on a single section. The aim of the test is to get a bell curve of results. This means there is a small percentage of students that do very poorly and very well, and the majority of students fall somewhere in the middle. Also with the SAT, each question is designed and tested to make sure that it will return appropriate results. When it comes to the FCAT, there should also be an idea of how students should test. The aim of the assessment like a state run standardized test should be designed to weed out the good students from the bad ones. There should not be students with grade point averages of 3.0 or higher struggling on these tests, like on the FCAT. This would not necessarily mean a bell curve of results, but perhaps the opposite. Students should either definitely pass the test, or struggle with it. This would allow educators to better gauge what needs to be fixed.

The FCAT has a lot of trust being placed on it and it ends up giving a poor representation of the students’ intelligence. Since the test determines a lot of the students’ futures, it needs to be revised and taken more seriously in its design. A student's intelligence is judged by the strength of their test-taking abilities and if tests are poorly designed, we are learning very little.

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