A mom I know who has children in Florida’s Hillsborough County public schools was telling a group of us about her daughter coming home and complaining about all the grammar errors on a Language Arts test she had taken that day. This was a Hillsborough County test, not the FCAT. This 6th grader counted seventeen errors in the text of the materials themselves; these were not for the students to identify and correct errors deliberately inserted as part of the test. These tests may have been part of the effort to design the course-specific evaluations that are to assess the new Core Curriculum standards that have the entire nation in a tizzy. Or perhaps they are more connected to the teacher evaluation effort financed by Bill Gates’ millions. Hillsborough was one of the districts chosen by the Gates Foundation to pilot school improvement ideas in return for piles of money. If it’s the latter, we would have to wonder how happy Mr. Gates would be about the lack of quality in such important assessments.
Parents have become too used to finding errors in the written work of Educators at all levels. Teachers are often lax in spelling and grammar, especially in letters and notes to parents. This is true even when spelling and grammar checking are readily available to them. At a slightly higher level, at which tests are designed and written, we have come to expect no better. (Kind of like what we expect of newspapers these days – doesn’t anyone employ editors anymore?)
Take a look at the second grade Reading Comprehension test below. It looks a bit uneven because the last couple sentences were on a different page. This multiple choice test was given on a computer at a Pasco County Elementary school using a program called “ExamView Web Site”. The student had scored poorly, and the concerned parent wanted to see the kind of questions her child had missed. Ordinarily, parents receive only the question number, the letter response of the student and an “X” next to the errors – not the narrative, not the questions, and nothing very helpful to the worried parent.
Notice that the first paragraph is indented, but the rest are not. For children who have been taught that paragraphs start with indented lines, this would be very misleading. In fact, this child took the test two times, and both times missed number 5 which read, “Which sentence below tells the main idea of the SECOND paragraph?” There were 11 multiple choice questions plus an essay question, yet the instructions were to “answer the question”. (Sic) The scoring notes at the top of the test stated that the essay question would not be graded, but that was only half true. The content was graded, but the spelling and grammar errors were not marked nor noted in any way. Apparently the scourge of invented spelling is still with us from the days of OBE/Blueprint 2000.
If this parent had not asked to see the actual test, these errors would not have come to light. The test given to the 6th grader in Hillsborough is never even seen by the students’ teachers, let alone by the students’ parents. This is a serious down side to the computerization of the public schools – it can completely obliterate the tiny bit of accountability to the parents that still exists after decades of shoving parents aside. This takes us in the opposite direction of what is needed if we are to turn our public schools around. We need more accountability – to the parents – not less.
These examples of sloppiness in the quality of school assessments show a deep lack of respect for students, their parents, teachers, and for the educational profession itself. It shows a grudging, half-hearted effort on the part of Hillsborough schools in making worthwhile use of Bill Gates’ good-faith financial support for improving student academic achievement. And it also shows a critical absence of professionalism from people who keep demanding they be treated as professionals.