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Back to Nov. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 166 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 1999

High Stakes Assessments Flunk
Scoring errors, ideology tarnish standards-based tests

NEW YORK, NY -- Textbook publisher CTB/McGraw Hill admitted on Sept. 14 that it made "significant errors" in scoring new high-stakes reading and math tests taken by New York City 3rd- and 6th-graders last spring. The company explained that, while the students "raw scores" were accurate, an error in "calibration" skewed the translation of those scores to national rankings. Reading scores were reported as "significantly lower" than in 1998 and math scores plummeted 10 points.

Pencils After a recalculation of the reading test scores (math scores are yet to be recalculated), the percentage of students reading at or above grade level jumped nearly 4%.

Not everyone is satisfied that the recalculation offers a more accurate picture of the test results, however. Dr. Stephen Ivens, vice president of Touchstone Applied Science Associates, the test supplier to New York City schools for 12 years prior to CTB/McGraw Hill, told the New York Times September 17: "The fix is too good to believe. Could a publisher make the data come out more or less favorable? The answer is, yes, you can, particularly once I know what the [test] results are."

At the core of the scoring confusion is the fact that the tests themselves have changed dramatically. The June 11 New York Times described the old tests as having the same "format, approach" and "level of difficulty," which made "year-to-year comparisons easy and reliable." The article quoted Daniel Lewis, a senior researcher for CTB/McGraw-Hill, as confirming that the new test "introduced a math curriculum that was quite different from the old one, involving new standards adopted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics," among other changes.

The Standards-based Movement

Across the country, state education departments are scrapping traditional academic achievement tests for new "high stakes" assessments which, educators acknowledge, are "radically different." This year, 16 states are introducing new tests designed to assess what students should know as determined by new so-called "challenging" content standards.

According to some education experts, these "standards" bode ill for local control and genuine academic instruction. Donna Hearne, president of the Constitutional Coalition and a former U.S. Department of Education official, warns that state performance assessment test questions "are not neutral but ideological." (See FOCUS, page 3.)

Another concern voiced by many parents is that, in order for students to pass standardized tests designed to measure their knowledge of state content standards, teachers will have to teach to the tests. The May 26 New York Times noted that the states new 4th-grade English test "was preceded by months of worry and feverish cramming," and that "schools virtually suspended their normal curriculums to brush up on [test] concepts."


 
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