Florida school board member takes state skills test, says test is crap 8

JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s a novel idea. A very well educated school board member in Orange County, Florida, took his state’s mandatory assessment test, which tests reading, math, science and writing, and he did very poorly. So, he wonders, how valid are those tests, really?

The board member, Rick Roach, is no dummy. He has two master’s degrees in education and educational psychology, and he’s working on a doctorate. He’s trained 18,000 teachers in 25 states, and served on his school board for four terms.

But his reading score on a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was 62%, which would have sent him to remediation classes. On the math part, he guessed on all 60 questions, getting only 10 right.

In an email to education critic Marion Brady, Roach wrote:

It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.

Roach went on to note how his life would have much different had he been required to take the FCAT in high school, and done as poorly as he did now.

If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions?

He makes a valid point which should bring up school “reformers” up short, but probably won’t. While reformers bemoan the supposed lack of “teacher accountability,” do they also hold accountable the makers of the tests they buy to measure teacher and student performance? If even one well educated adult fails a test for 10th graders, something is very wrong. Scientifically speaking, if our theory is that standardized tests accurately measure student performance, just one negative result would invalidate the theory. At the very least, Roach’s test results should either call into question his qualifications as an educator or the validity of the FCAT.

Chances are, neither question will be raised. Roach is clearly well qualified. No argument there. But school assessment tests are the latest fad in education “reform” — a form of quality control for a corporate mindset that treats schools like factories, teachers like assembly line workers and students like widgets. Too many politicians, big names in education (Michelle Rhee?) and test makers have invested a lot of time and money to give up their pet assessment exams because one board member flunked an exam.

But Americans need to get off the testing bandwagon long enough to evaluate the tests being used. Students should not be pigeon-holed, nor teachers be punished, on the basis of only fill-in-the-oval examinations. Most colleges in the USA no longer use only the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions, after all. They use other measures of student quality, too.

China could serve as a model of what not to do. Standardized tests are the be-all, end-all of a person’s education here. The dreaded gaokao — the college entrance exam — is the ultimate hurdle for every high school student here. Graduation is merely icing on the cake. A student’s score on the gaokao determines his or her future for the next four years, and probably beyond. Unlike American colleges, Chinese colleges only consider a student’s gaokao score. If you’re even a few points below the cutoff for the school, tough luck, kid.

It’s draconian, to say the least. And there’s no way out. I’ve had several students here who are bright, well spoken (in Chinese and English), thoughtful and diligent, but their gaokao scores banished them to this third-tier university. Future employers will give preference to graduates of first- and second-tier schools, perhaps disregarding other qualifications, because it’s efficient. With a huge population, bosses have to find some way to whittle down the applicant pool to a halfway manageable level.

The Chinese system invites cheating and fraud, because the gaokao, and the many other required examinations, carry so much baggage. The allegations of fraud in the Washington, DC, testing system while Rhee was superintendent only hint at what could happen in the US if people take the whole testing system too seriously.

I have seen what damage standardized tests can do to Chinese students (including suicide). America doesn’t need to go in the same direction.
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The links above about Roach and Brady take you to The Washington Post. Brady has the original commentary at his own blog, www.marionbrady.com.
The link for the Teflon-coated Michelle Rhee is to a scathing critique of Rhee by Diane Ravitch, a fairly conservative but very thoughtful education expert.

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8 thoughts on “Florida school board member takes state skills test, says test is crap

  1. Reply eric Dec 8,2011 4:43 am

    Just looked at the first 5 questions on the FCAT 2010 Grade 10 math test. Only one of them seemed to require a bit of thought and the rest should be answerable as fast as you can punch keys on your calculator. None of them should’ve required guessing from an educated person. Good gracious, two are find-the-volume geometry questions and the volume equations for various solids (including the ones asked about) are GIVEN at the beginning of the test!

    I’m sorry but I don’t agree with this educator; he should be embarrased – not the test designers – at the fact that he had to guess at the math questions.

  2. Reply Frank Dec 10,2011 12:27 am

    Eric is correct. The test is not that difficult. This underscores what the real problem is with public education – the ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ who compose the bureaucracy are just sucking the government teat for a job. Were it not for the education profession, they’d be working at Wal-Mart, running a cash register.

  3. Reply eljefe Dec 10,2011 10:57 am

    OK, Frank and Eric, I will grant the possibility that Roach is not too swift with his math skills. I find it hard to believe, however, that someone with two master’s degrees got 62% on the reading portion. If you’ve ever had to read professional papers written by educators and psychologists, you’d know what I mean. Anyone who can read that stuff should be able to pass a 10th grade reading test easily.

    You guys need to remember these are timed tests. You may have the leisure while sitting at home to take your time, but under test conditions a kid might have just a minute or two. I checked the FCAT administration schedule: if I’m reading it correctly, 10th graders have 70 minutes to read and answer about 45 reading questions and 70 minutes for about 60 math questions. The 2006 reading test advised students to spend 5 minutes on some questions (including reading the passages) and 10-15 minutes for others.

    Eric, were YOU able to answer the questions quickly and correctly, given those time constraints?

    Frank, Roach is an elected member of the school board. And some of the same “leaders” and “experts” that you’re dumping on are also pushing the assessment exams, without evaluating whether the exams measure what they are supposed to test. That’s Roach’s main point, which neither you nor Eric have addressed.

    What is the primary purpose of the FCAT? To see if the kids have learned enough to pass on to the next grade level? To see if they’re smart? To see if their teachers are doing a good job? To see which school gets rewarded and which punished? To give another collection of experts and leaders jobs? All of the above?

    I lived in Kentucky for 30 years, and it also has a state assessment system. I cannot confidently say that Kentucky education has improved a great deal since the system began. Mostly what I’ve seen is another level of bureaucracy added to deal with the losers and winners of the exams (teachers and schools).

  4. Reply Jeff Dec 12,2011 9:35 pm

    When I first heard about this story, I wondered how Roach got through the GRE’s to get into grad school. Then I realized his degrees were probably in education. Nice to see this guess confirmed.

  5. Reply eljefe Dec 12,2011 10:13 pm

    You know, smart guy, not all education majors are illiterate. I find it vaguely amusing that more commenters doubt Roach’s academic skills than the validity of the tests. Are fill-in-the-bubble tests some kind of sacred cow? Likewise, no one seems willing to address his main point: what are these exams really testing? Personally, I have problems with his argument that the FCAT does not test skills that are necessary in the “real world. Most of us don’t need to calculate the volume of a cylinder, but we do need to understand HOW one uses a formula to find it.

  6. Reply Bob Dec 13,2011 1:43 am

    Yeah, what were this guy’s GREs? Does he want to come clean with that? What schools did he attend? What was his undregrad major? This sounds very suspicious.
    Everyone with any sense knows that the most important “reform” we need for our education system is better, smarter, more competent teachers. I know this flunkie is just an administrator, but if he’s the one supervising teachers and we need smarter teachers then surely we need smarter administrators.
    Are people really defending someone responsible for educating our kids who doesn’t even know basic Algebra? Is this guy saying that basic Algebra isn’t important? Can we get this guy fired or is he protected?

  7. Reply Jeff Dec 13,2011 3:44 am

    Nope, not all education majors are illiterate. However, Roach seems to be close to completely innumerate and have some potential reading comprehension issues to boot.

    Did you take a look at the sample questions? On the math side, it’s arithmetic, along with basic 8th and 9th grade algebra and geometry. Any formula a test taker might need is provided and calculators are permitted. The standards that the test is trying to measure are partially laid out in the answer key to the sample questions: http://fcat.fldoe.org/pdf/sample/1011/math/FL522275_Gr10_Mth_AK_WT_r3g.pdf

  8. Reply eljefe Dec 13,2011 7:32 am

    Bob:
    He’s an elected member of the local school board, elected to four terms so far, all of which is mentioned in my post. So, he’s not exactly a flunkie. How’s your reading comprehension?

    Jeff:
    Roach took the 10th grade test, which has simple algebra, geometry and probability on it. You’re correct in saying the formulas are provided and calculators are permitted. The test taker only has a minute or two per question, if he wants to answer them all. I put four sample questions from the 2006 exam in a separate post yesterday.

    I agree with Bob about the need for better teachers. But the latest trend in education lately seems to be “blame the teachers, blame the unions.” Instead of recognizing teachers as a potential solution, policymakers are using them as political punching bags. We could start by listening to the teachers and critics of the testing system. They might even know something useful.

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