Reposting of a Miami Herald article regarding FCAT testing:
Posted on Friday, 05.04.12
BY JENNIFER SMITH
Who is Pearson accountable to?
The state of Florida is paying the testing company NCS Pearson $250 million to administer and score the FCAT through the end of 2013. That amount could buy a lot. But in the case of Pearson contracts, Florida seems to be getting ripped off.
Students can be retained in third grade if they don’t pass their FCAT. They will be denied high school graduation if they don’t pass their FCAT. For the first time ever, 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations will be based on student FCAT scores. Two out of three negative (or two negative in a row) mean the unemployment line. As of 2014, the scores will also determine pay. Schools will, as always, be assigned a letter grade based on student FCAT performance — only now the test is harder and the proficiency scores are higher, meaning hundreds of schools in Miami-Dade County alone expect to drop as much as two letter grades.
It’s supposed to be a secure test, but The Herald recently exposed that the tenth grade FCAT reading tests use the same passages and questions throughout the “testing window,” which is as long as two weeks: The test has moved online and most high schools do not have enough computers to administer the test to all tenth graders on the same day.
When students leave the test, they can tell their friends (or post on Twitter) the titles of the passages in the test, giving students those in the second or third testing group a great advantage.
They can also report back to classmates what vocabulary words they will be asked about, or what background knowledge they will be expected to know.
The remedy? The Florida Department of Education has made students sign a pledge this year not to talk about the content of the test or share test information with anyone.
SB 736 mandates a standardized test for every subject taught by every school in the state by 2014.
These are the infamous new “end-of-course exams,” better known as EOCs, and NCS Pearson has the lucrative contract.
Naturally, these new EOCs are all computer-based as well . . . contributing to the two-month testing calendar at many high schools lacking sufficient computers.
The testing windows for the EOCs are just as long as those for the FCAT reading — meaning the possibility of cheating by reporting content is just as strong, making the tests just as invalid.
The test questions are harder. (And some are misleading or just wrong, too.)
Robert Krampf, a science blogger, checked out the FLDOE’s FCAT Science Test Item Specifications as he made FCAT practice questions to help students review for the test. He found that some definitions listed in the specifications were flat-out wrong. He also found multiple-choice questions where some of the “wrong answers” were scientifically correct answers.
The response of the FLDOE? Fifth grade students would not be expected to know enough science beyond the benchmarks to know that the scientifically correct “wrong” answers were actually, well, correct.
In other words, children — and their teachers — could be penalized for knowing too much.
Problems with the test questions cannot be reported by teachers, as they are not allowed to see the test.
When confused students alert their test proctors that the right answer is not among the answer choices provided, even if the teacher ascertains that this is indeed fact, he can do nothing about this situation, because by law he is not allowed to see the test or assist students taking the test in any way.
Thus, wrong questions with wrong answers pass by in silence, and can determine whether students advance to the next grade level, get credit for a class, or graduate from high school.
And the results of those students will determine which teachers keep or lose their jobs, and which teachers are eligible or not for a raise.
For the honor, Pearson will take your money, thank you very much.
In the Age of Accountability, the only ones not accountable for anything, apparently, are the testing giants who have lobbied hard for the “accountability” legislation.
They are accountable only to their shareholders.
Jennifer Smith is a teacher, United Teachers of Dade-designated building steward at Hialeah High School, and co-chair of the Legislative Relations Committee at UTD.