January 23, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 4

Dr. Wes

If standardized tests are so smart, how come they can’t test themselves?

by: Dr. Wes Browning

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We have a mutiny in our schools. Starting at Garfield High School, and branching out from there, Seattle teachers are boycotting the Measures of Academic Progress tests (MAP) and refusing to administer it.

I have no idea what’s in the MAP tests. Apparently no one does, except the kids who take it. According to the website of the Northwest Evaluation Association, the cartel that creates and promotes the tests, the MAPs are “proprietary.” They are so full of precious intellectual property that we can’t even be allowed to see samples. We’d steal their ideas and make our own tests, and then they’d have to send henchmen to fill us up with No. 2 pencils, as a warning to the others.

The tests are described as having features I can’t assess, such as follow-ups to missed questions. No illustrations of these features are given. How am I supposed to know if the tests are any good if I can’t ask what’s in the test? There’s your irony of the week. We need tests to test the tests.

I have mixed feelings about standardized tests. In junior high school my grade point average hovered around my toes. My GPA was so low it was baritone. My best grade for an English course was D, up from the usual D-. I was not on the college track. I was not on the vocational track. I was not even on the track track. I was on the no-track track.

Then, everyone in my grade at my school and all across Washington state had to take one big standardized exam. They had my entire grade packed into the cafeteria one morning answering multiple choice questions for I-don’t-remember-how-many hours. All I can remember of taking the test itself was that the answer was always one of A, B, C, D or E, and I could almost always tell which four it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe how easy it was.

I aced the exam. As soon as the school learned this, I was forced to see the school counselor, Ms. Toots Bubbles, in order to explain myself. Perceived as a nonachiever before, I was now in trouble for being an underachiever. I was interrogated. She asked if I regularly had trouble with homework. I said, “No trouble at all, ma’am. I don’t do any of it.” She asked why. I said, “Because I’d rather do other things.” What other things? “Reading and learning stuff.” Ms. Bubbles concluded I was maladjusted. I was.

Anyway, the upshot of it was that, entirely against my will, without further consultation, I was put into harder courses and had to shirk harder homework for the next two years.

Actually, I lie, just a little. Acing that test was the beginning of the end of my neglect of schoolwork because of the attention I got from it. People were suddenly saying I had to be smart and should be doing better, having before just written me off. It took a couple of years for that to sink in, but the test started things off. Acing that test when I did convinced me that if I raised my grades a little I could get into college by acing college entrance exams. Then, I could date coeds.

“What’s your point, Wes?” My point is, standardized tests can be a hoot. They’re like parlor games. They can also be used to good effect. But looking back on it, even though the standardized test did good by me, that could have been accomplished without a test.

All I truly needed was for the school to pay attention to what it was I wanted to learn, and help me learn that.

We should be doing that in all our schools. Find out what our kids want to explore and help them get to it.

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