To Boost Scores: FCAT Transparency
The corporate politicos who rammed through NCLB could have required transparency. But of course they didn't. Ask yourself why.
It's testing week in Florida schools. Contrary to what the state or your
child's school may have you believe, revealing the contents of the
Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test does not endanger national
security. It may even help it, considering that better-educated students
strengthen national security.
The FCAT bureaucracy disagrees. Revealing a test's questions after it's
been administered would require the company that writes the test to
produce a new one every year, in every subject. That would add to the
annual $38 million to $44 million it costs to write, administer and
score the tests.
In FCAT math, what the state spends, and how much the company profits
from it, is more important than whether the test is the tool it's
designed to be -- showing students exactly what they're learning well
and what they need to improve on. Secrecy ensures that the only things
students get are their grades, which are then used to judge their school
and either reward it with cash or humiliate it with a bad grade.
The secrecy over the test is producing a crop of absurd measures,
foolishness and disgrace. Teachers and administrators must sign an oath
promising that they'll uphold the test's secrecy. Last year a student at
Atlantic High School took a picture of test pages with his cell phone
and posted the shots on the Web. Now students are forbidden from
bringing any kind of electronic device anywhere near their testing zone,
including music players (which could be very good for the nerves just
before the test) and phones.
Extreme secrecy combined with intense pressure to perform sooner or
later tempts rule-breakers, either to flaunt the system or to gain an
advantage. The student who photographed the test was just jeering at the
system. The stunt wasn't going to gain the student an advantage. To the
contrary. He was found out, and his test invalidated. We can't know,
until they're found out, that more serious breaches aren't taking place.
And what about the state's own disgrace in all this? Two years ago a
lawsuit by a Democratic lawmaker revealed that many of the temporary
workers hired to score the test had no specialties in the field or no
bachelor's degrees, including a video store clerk and a janitor. Last
year blunders were discovered in the third-grade reading tests
administered in 2006, leading to a deceptively historic spike (or drop)
in grades, depending on which year's results were analyzed. As for
actual errors in specific questions -- it's impossible to know what
those may be. Judging from the history of standardized testing, the only
certainty is that errors sometimes happen, but get corrected through
transparency. The FCAT doesn't do transparency.
Under pressure from parents and schools the state publishes a few
samples from past tests on its Web site -- but very few. The tests are
helpful. But they're not a substitute for fuller disclosure. The state
can't honestly argue that it cannot demand more openness from its
testing company, British-based Pearson, even for a few dollars more (not
when its legislators are proposing to increase by $150 million a dubious
corporate tax credit that underwrites private-school vouchers). The
company should be compelled to do what profits Florida students most.
Transparency does. Currently inane levels of secrecy do not.
Daytona Beach News-Journal
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