Monday, January 12, 2009

Maryland High School Assessment Days

Today, I spent my day administering the Maryland HSA test to four students who have failed it previously. The Maryland HSA tests are state standardized tests that every high schooler mus pass in order to graduate from high school. I administered to this particular group of students because they needed the test to be read to them verbatim, as per their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Today, I administered the Algebra test and I will be administering tests (Government, English, Biology) for the rest of the week. I personally am of mixed emotions about the existence of tests that decide whether our high schoolers will recieve diplomas by measuring their ability to take 3+ hour tests on whether they can identify functions, command economies and evidence for endosymbiotic theory.

On one hand, I am quite an "anti-federalist" in terms of education; more directly, I do not see standardization as an unqualified good. Most people wrongly equate "standardization" to be a synonym for "rigorous." While that which is standardized MAY be rigorous, the two terms are in no way related necessarily. In fact, current educational trends seem to suggest the opposite: the more we standardize into a one-size-fits-all model, the more we are forced to make the standards more and more basic (if one wants everyone to jump through the hoop, you need to make the hoop very, very wide!).

Want proof? This year, the state of Maryland is doing away with the writing requirement on the HSA tests. Where former tests saw students having to do Brief Constructed Response items (writing prompts, basically), the state has elected to make future tests to contain only multiple choice problems. Their rationale? The state says that BCR's are simply too hard to grade in the limited time between when students take the test and the end of the school year. The real reason? Too many students are failing, and the test has gotten progressively easier every year (a la the Flynn Effect)

On the other hand, my job as an educator is to prepare students to meet state standards whether I agree with those standards or not. Thus, I am always disheartened when I see students take the test seriously. A few of the students I tested today - not all! - dumped questions by guessing, laughed during the testing procedure, and very obviously did not take the consequences to failing the test seriously. I constantly tell the students that their future diplomas are on the line, but it feels like I am talking past them.

An article I read last year, dealing with the disproportionate failure of middle-classs black students to pass the HSAs, quoted an education official as saying that it may well take students actually not recieving diplomas due to HSA failure to get the picture that the tests have consequences. As distasteful as this conclusion is, I have to say that I agree. Sadly, this is the first year where seniors will be accountable for passing all their HSA"s in order to recieve diplomas. I wonder how many seniors that otherwise could have had diplomas will not recieve them?

So, while I think that policy of standardized tests as an obstacle for diplomas is misguided (the tests are misguided as is the quest for standardization), it is deflating to me to see the number of kids who do not take such tests seriously when they haev such a serious consequence.

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