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Where's the Beef?

Publication Date: 2011-10-19

A lawsuit against Taco Bell brings up questions about standardized testing. NOTE: The lawsuit against Taco Bell was dropped--after the company spent several millions defending their product.

I've been holding on to this news item for nearly a year:

Montgomery, Alabama--Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles, an Alabama law firm, filed a class-action lawsuit against the Taco Bell fast-food chain, claiming what the chain calls "seasoned beef" actually is just 36% meat. . . . The lawsuit said that Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef” contains other ingredients, including water, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch.â€"CBS/AP San Francisco, “Lawsuit Filed in California Court Over Taco Bell Beef”, Jan 24. 2011

Here’s San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford’s take on Taco Bell:
Mmm, Taco Bell. The very name conjures images of tormented Chihuahuas, florescent orange liquids and steaming vats of a gnarled, meat-like paste that fills the gullets of gullible Americans who are addicted to sodium, corn syrup solids and, uh, "polysaccharide absorbed as glucose." And lots of it! You will be not the slightest bit surprised to read that Taco Bell's "beef" isn't actually meat. The vast majority of it -- 65 percent, to be exact -- consists of assorted chemicals, salts, anti-caking agents, binders, fillers, fake smells, imitation flavoring, lost dreams, road tar, hair gel, horse toenails and, strangely, John Boehner.

Morford adds, "Hell, even the 'real' meat isn't real meat, what with the hormones and antibiotics and weak, corn-fed cows that taste like sadness."

I'd already been thinking about the parallels between the actual nutritional value of mass produced food and the actual measurement value of standardized tests. And that last phrase hits at the heart of the matter: weak, corn-fed cows that taste like sadness.

Excessive standardized tests have made classrooms across the country taste like sadness.

CTB McGraw-Hill Terra Nova third edition, with 40 percent of test-design market, advertises that it "measures important higher-order thinking skills as well as basic and applied skills."

How many "critical thinking skills" have ever been found lurking in one of these tests?

Actually, how many of us would recognize critical thinking skill if it came knocking at the door?

If it did come knocking, would it be in four parts, A, B, C, D?

Pearson's promise that their Stanford 10, with 40 percent of test-design market, gives customer "data that contains the information you need to make more accurate decisions regarding instruction."

Is there a teacher anywhere out there in America who feels a standardized test has given her "the data that contains the information" she needs to make more accurate decisions regarding instruction? If so, I hope she will get in touch with me immediately.

Most experienced teachers report that they find that text content--mostly fillers, binders, and lost dreams--is accurate only 22% of the time.

Riverside Publishing's Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) Market share: 20 percent of test-design market, claim "the results can provide unique information about individual students and classes for use in instructional planning. When used as intended, such batteries can be a useful supplement to teacher observations about what students are able to do." [emphasis added]

This is the only halfway reasonable claim appearing in testing literature which is probably why ITBS has only 20 percent of the market.

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