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Education Reform: Standardized Testing: Questions Gone Wild Aren't the Answer

Posted: 2004-04-16

James Hope is a Gwinnett County teacher and an honorable man. Hounded by the local and state officials because he thought parents should be aware of testing absurdities, he refuses to be silenced, offering here a revealing look at the new state test.



Here's the question: What change should be made to the phrase "stir it around" in the sentence below?



Put the rubber banded shirt in the dye and stir it around with an old stick.



a. stir it round and round



b. stir it about



c. stir it



d. stir it all over




Confused? Think how a 9-year-old child would feel.



This is a practice sample question from the state's new Criterion-Referenced Competencies Test for fourth-graders. This year, third-graders must pass the reading portion to be promoted. In the next two years, fifth- and eighth-graders will have to pass the reading portion or risk failing their grades. Such is the brainstorm of Georgia's A Plus Education Reform Act enacted a few years ago by then-Gov. Roy Barnes and the state Legislature.



According to the law, students in the third through eighth grades must suffer these ambiguous and superficial multiple choice tests this month in language arts, reading, math, social studies and science in an attempt to measure how well students are learning the state's curriculum.



The cornerstone for this so-called reform was to be smaller class sizes, but, predictably, the Legislature has decided not to fund that part of the law, so all we are left with are the tests and the penalties that will be doled out to schools, students and teachers who do not make the grade.



To make matters worse, Gwinnett County, the state's largest school system, has stubbornly decided to hang on to its inept Gateway test so students get a double whammy. For instance, seventh-grade students in Gwinnett must not only take the five tests listed above, they must also take and pass standardized Gateway tests in language arts, math, social studies and science.



That's nine redundant tests in one month. Add that to the other standardized tests given to Georgia students in grades 3-8, such as the seven-day Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the Otis- Lennon Cognitive Abilities Test, the state writing test and, well, you get the picture.



In its infinite wisdom, all the Georgia Legislature has accomplished is to bilk taxpayers for millions of dollars to throw one more set of standardized tests on to the already too large, standardized pile, forcing teachers across the state to stop teaching so students can start practicing taking multiple-choice test questions such as the one above. It's not what you know that counts, but how well you can think like a standardized test maker.



I would love to give you a specific example of a Gwinnett Gateway test question, but the last time I made some of those questions public, in an attempt to show how some test items do not measure what is taught in schools, I was visited three times by school system police, had my phone records confiscated and almost had my teaching certificate revoked.



Anybody, and I mean anybody, who wishes to view a Gateway test, past or present, must sign a confidentiality form threatening the violator with five years in prison for discussing test questions. Makes you wonder who is in the business of serving whom.



There are only a handful of companies in the multibillion-dollar standardized test-making business. And with the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, these companies are scrambling to meet the requirements for new standardized tests to measure each state's differing curriculum.



These tests were supposed to be the yardstick to measure educational reform, not be the educational reform. And that's true, no matter how you "stir it" or "stir it round and round."



James Hope is a Gwinnett County teacher.



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