Testing: None of the Above
The New York Times, By Lisa Guernsey, April 24, 2005
Ann: There is much that is wrong with testing, but in the Modern Era of High Stakes Testing, there is no excuse for poorly written, vague and deceptive test items. Nevertheless, bad test items haunt tests and the students who must take them. A few experts have taken it on themselves to vet tests designed for K-12 – check out the results.
Professor Middleton decided that a quarter of the questions he analyzed had mistakes in content or context (he has just completed an analysis of recently released questions and says there is improvement).
"It’s an increasingly severe problem," says Walter M. Haney, a senior researcher at Boston College’s Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy.
Ann: A quarter of the items! Poorly written, vague and deceptive test items are nothing new, of course.
Twenty years ago, David Owen’s None of the Above: behind the myth of
scholastic aptitude launched a scathing attack on testing practices, yet testing companies continued to crank out the stuff.
While poor items are nothing new, they do matter a good deal more than they did 20 years ago – because of those three ugly little words – high stakes testing.
Never before have tests had the potential to devastate so many lives. More from the Times article:
The process by which questions are vetted is long and costly. "On most of the tests that are created today, the people who write them and the people who review them do a conscientious and good job," says Gregory Cizek, an education professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has been an elementary school teacher and a test writer for ACT Inc. But, he adds, "stuff always slips through."
Ann: Outrageous. Apparently taking the trouble to make sure only quality items are on tests would cost too much money.
Jerry P. Becker, a professor of curriculum and instruction at
Southern Illinois University, wrote this in an online discussion about
ambiguous math questions: "We’re talking about kids who are desperately
trying to penetrate the minds of adults and figure out what is ‘really’
being asked and what ‘the trick’ is."
Ann: Becker nails the problem which hints at one reason many youth don’t trust adults. What is really going on when students are asked to guess what testmakers are thinking? What is really going on when testing services do not vet every item? I don’t like it one bit.