The test scores are all wrong. The kids aren’t stupid- they are just smart enough to know when something doesn’t matter:
The fact that 8-year-olds and 17-year-olds have different attitudes toward low-pressure exams isn’t going to come as a surprise to anyone who has raised a teenager—or has been one. The NAEP is used to judge school systems and overall student performance, but the test doesn’t matter at all to individual kids. In 2002 nearly half of the 17-year-olds tapped to take the national NAEP exam didn’t bother to show up. Students who did show up left more essay questions than multiple-choice questions blank, an indication that they weren’t going to be bothered to venture an answer if it required effort.
The “who cares?” phenomenon probably plagues older students’ performance on international exams, too. Granted, kids in Japan and the United Kingdom don’t pay a personal price for how they do on global tests, either. But cultural pressures can be very different in other countries. Korean schools have staged rallies to rev their children up before they take international assessments. And Germany created a national “PISA Day” to mark the date when 15-year-olds take the exam that will rank them against students in other countries. The U.S. Department of Education, meanwhile, has a hard time convincing principals to administer voluntary international tests at all.
The dubiousness of these test results becomes clear when you compare them to the results of tests that actually do matter for teenagers: high-school exit exams and college boards. Nineteen states now require their students to pass assessments before they can don a cap and gown; seven others are testing students but not yet withholding diplomas. When states begin imposing penalties for failure, it makes a difference—sometimes a big one. Look at Texas: In 2004, results counted toward graduation for the first time, and pass rates on both the math and English portions of the test leapt almost 20 points. According to Julie Jary, who oversees student assessment for the state, no substantive alterations were made to the test. What changed was students’ motivation: When their diplomas were hanging in the balance, they managed to give more correct answers.
And yet another aspect of educational testing I had never thought about.
When I was a kid, we took these tests (I think it was the ITED – Iowa Tests of Educational Development). Some kids would try to make patterns with the multiple choice circles.
One year, one of the students — a real genius — got fed up with the test and worked at choosing a wrong answer for each questions (not just random, but wrong on every one). We were a very small rural school and his prank lowered the entire school’s average. Really upset the school administration.
I can assure you that any test that does not have a direct impact on a student’s grade will be blown off. Most of the District of Columbia schools (where I teach) fail to reach our targets because we don’t get the 95% attendance required to pass under NCLB. Granted we have lots of problems in DC, but failing standardized tests has very little to do with the student’s skill level and more to do with their realization that it has NO effect on them.
When my eldest took the WASL in fifth grade, I got him past his test anxiety by saying “You know why your teachers are making a big thing of this? Their jobs depend on it. Your job doesn’t. If you want to be nice to them, do a good job — but if you don’t do a good job, it won’t hurt you.”
Suddenly, he could take the test. Of course, he might have done better if he had some skin in the game, but I really kind of doubt it.
Anytime I see something out of Texas that claims great leaps of sudden student brilliance, I just have to remember the Texas Miracle.
That clears it all up. Thank you Rod Page, for making the entire state of Texas’ education system a laughing stock to the rest of the country.
I remember how pissed our fourth grade class was after taking the test to be told we would not be told how we did or which ones we got wrong. 1956, we thought we were there to learn everything we needed to know. Never took another test without finding out first if there would be feedback.