T or F? The standardized test conundrum


POSTED 24 AUG 2000

    pencil with side titlesThe exam starts nowStandard operating procedureTough testing in TexasThe public voiceSeeking alternatives



Ever wonder what the "No. 2" means on the side of your test-taking pencils? Pay attention, because this will be on the test.

The "No.2" refers to the relative hardness of the pencil "lead." This lead is actually a mixture of graphite and clay. The greater the ratio of clay to graphite, the softer the pencil and the lower the "No."

No.1 pencils, with the greatest ratio of clay to graphite, have the softest lead. Our good old No.2s have a bit more graphite, so they're slightly harder. Pencils numbered 2 1/2, 3 and 4 have progressively greater graphite content.
a #2 pencil
Ok, let's see what you remember...

The "No. 2"
pencil is:

a) Harder than a No.1 pencil

b) The standard pencil for standardized tests

c) Softer than a No.3 pencil

d) All of the above

e) None of the above


Multiple choice

1. Paul Revere arrived in Boston:

1 If by land

2 If by sea

3 If by Revereware saucepan

4 After flunking the Iowa standardized patriotism test

Two years ago, California abandoned multilingual education in favor of immersion in English for all students, including the large minority who speak Spanish as a native language. Now, test results show major gains for elementary students who are being taught solely in English. The first measurement of the controversial change, reading and math scores are both up significantly. "I thought it would hurt kids," Ken Noonan, superintendent of schools in Oceanside, Calif. Standardized tests - they're more popular than tax cuts. But do they work?told the New York Times [See Test Scores Rise... In the Bibliography]. Noonan, once a major proponent of multilingual education, said "the exact reverse has occurred."

The promising results came courtesy of standardized tests, which are increasingly a fact of life in American education.

Stumped by the surge in standardized tests? Well, get used to it. Seems you can't spend a day in a classroom, or an hour gabbling about education without thinking about multiple choice and true or false, the favored formats of standardized, computer-scored tests. Want to know how your schools are doing? Then bring on the national tests. Want to know if a student is qualified to graduate high school or attend college? Roll out the No. 2 pencils and some bubble-format test sheets.

You can't survive an election season without hearing endorsements for the tests. On Aug. 2, Richard Cheney, the GOP vice-presidential nominee, told the Republican National Convention, "When George W. Bush is president and I am vice president, tests will be taken, results will be measured, and schools will answer to parents...and no child will be left behind."

Indeed, in July, a major study pointed to rapid educational gains in Texas between 1990 and 1996, the year after George W. Bush became governor. However, the gains were largely attributable to smaller class size, expanded pre-kindergarten programs, and greater school spending, said the Rand Corp. in issuing the report.

It wasn't just Richard Cheney, a former congressman and oil executive, who was touting standards and tests. Take Al Gore's former running mate, Bill Clinton. According to the U.S. Department of Education, "The priorities of the President and the Secretary of Education include: 'All states and schools will have challenging and clear standards of achievement and accountability for all children'"

When everybody starts agreeing like this, we Why Filers start wondering.

Multiple choice
Standardized tests:

a improve education by identifying good and bad schools.

b improve education by catching students who are falling through the cracks.

c damage education when used for purposes that they were not designed for, like evaluating schools or helping students catch up.

d damage education because schools with lots of poor and minority students may "dumb down" their curriculum to inflate test scores.

What do standardized tests tell us about U.S. education?


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