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Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 15, 2012

Is Testing Fair?

If you've been paying even scant attention lately to state and national news about educational changes in the pipeline, then you've likely heard such phrases as "core standards" and "common assessments" and "competency-based" learning.  In a sound byte, momentum has formed to identify a common body of knowledge and common set of core skills that each student should be able to exhibit on a standardized test.  Well, the core standards have been identified.  The common assessments are being identified.  And competency-based learning seems to remain in search of its identity.

Perhaps not stated explicitly, colleges have nevertheless been relying upon standardized tests (SAT, ACT) for years now to determine readiness for success in higher education.  In a sense, it has driven admission decisions for many applicants. 

Some are welcoming the educational changes that will essentially create a national curriculum and one that will measure student mastery with the use of common standard assessments.  Others, though, aren't so keen on the idea.  One organization that has for years argued against the standard exam is the The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, and its website provides a whole host of reasons why.

One argument used to explain why the SAT and ACT are so widely used by institutions of higher education is that it provides a level playing field upon which to evaluate students.  After all, every student is taking the same test - no matter where they live and attend school.  While grades earned in courses - albeit at an assortment of schools - do matter, the test scores are typically used to "validate" earned grades.  It's comparing "apples to apples", as they say, while comparing grades across school districts may not always bear the same fruit.

Much more will follow as these issues play out in committees, schools, and politics.  In the meantime, what appears just below is an example of a standardized test.  It's a common assessment that measures mastery of core standards.  Or is it?  What do these scores really reveal?

PSAT Results Returned to EOS Students

PSAT results were returned this week on the EOS students who completed the test back in October. The test was administered on a Saturday this year and participation differed from last year. Fewer 11th graders took it this year (95 as compared to 168 last year) while, conversely, more 10th graders sat for the test (48 vs. 20 last year). PSAT is the acronym for Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test. The "P" could also quite easily mean "Practice" because it's what the test essentially serves as for most students who take it. Those who score in the top half of the 99th percentile are named National Merit Semi-Finalists and enter into a scholarship competition ($2500) with other students in this category. Below you will find data on the test results.

Class of 2014

Participants 95
Females 55                     
Males 40

Average Critical Reading Score = 55.7  (72% scored 50 or higher)
Average Math Score = 55.9  (72% scored 50 or higher)
Average Writing Score = 52.9  (67% scored 50 or higher)

An SAT equivalent score can be be derived by multiplying each PSAT score by 10. So, 52.9 = 529, etc. The average score for each category on the PSAT is 50 and 500 for the SAT.

College Majors (selected by students)

Undecided...13.8% (Female = 5.5%, Male = 26%)

Health Professions/Sciences...22.3% (Female = 31%, Male = 10.3%)

Engineering...10.6% (Female = 5.5%, Male = 20%)

Visual & Performing Arts...10.6 % (Female = 10.9%, Male = 10.3%)

Psychology...5.3% (Female = 10.6%, Male = 0%)

Business Management...10.3% (Female = 5.5%, Male = 7.4%)

Education...1.1% (Female = 1.8%, Male = 0%)

Biological Sciences...7.4% (Female = 9.1%, Male = 5.1%)

Physical Sciences...2.1% (Female = 3.6%, Male = 0%)

Security/Protective Services...3.2% (Female = 1.8%, Male = 5.1%)

Computer/Information Systems...2.1% (Female = 0%, Male = 5.1%)

Theology/Religious Vocation...1.1% (Female = 0%, Male = 2.6%)

Social Service Professions...0.0%

Students should have received their individual score reports in the mail this week along with the test booklets they used when taking it. The Guidance Department chooses to mail these scores home rather than distribute them in classes so as to protect the privacy of this information. The test booklets accompany the score reports so that students can use this information when preparing for the SAT.

For more information about the PSAT and interpretation of scores, you will find a link labeled "Understanding Your 2012 PSAT Scores" and another tutorial called "My College Quickstart".  Both are listed under Tutorials to the right on this page.

Can the American Dream Still Become a Reality?

No other country in the world can hold claim to its own dream like the United States does with its "American Dream."  It has lured many from elsewhere to migrate and make this dream become for them a reality. Many, no doubt, have realized it. And some haven't. Coined in the 1930s just after the nightmare of the Great Depression was coming to an end, the American Dream became a reality as the country awakened from the financial disaster and then later WWII to find itself flush with resources and a booming economy that brought a middle class lifestyle to millions of Americans.

More than six decades later, this notion of the American Dream is now fading for millions as the country has suffered from what is now called the Great Recession. There is much debate about whether or not America will recover from this devastating crash and again become the land of opportunity it has long been known to be.

You may have your own feeling about this and perhaps your own experiences as well. What's your take? Is the American Dream still alive? Or is it an experience that one can only have while sleeping?  Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

If you choose to make the time, a report out of Harvard recently provided directions for a remedy.

Ending False Hopes

The state and federal governments are redefining the term “college readiness”. It has several implications for high school students and for their larger school communities.  The proposal has made its way to final legislation (see the bill signed into law by Governor Malloy if you're interested in the legal wording), and what it means to be ready for college in Connecticut will change quite significantly in the near future. 

For many years, high school graduates have arrived on community college campuses expecting to earn college credits in their scheduled courses.  To the surprise of many students, the first lesson learned is they're not quite ready - as determined by a placement test called the Accuplacer.  For more information about this legislation, click on this link (published while the legislation was still in discussion).  Another piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education, National Groups Call for Big Changes in Remedial Education, published just this week, addresses the issue on a national level.

This shift in thinking is really based upon a concept known as "ability to benefit", which means that students need to demonstrate an ability to benefit from being enrolled in college (read: successfully complete college-level work). Anything less will no longer be considered college. Having said that, it will end the false hope that some students have of moving on to higher education without first taking sufficient care of what needs to be done in high school.

CLEP for College Credits

An example of "competency-based" learning is The College Board's College-Level-Examination-Program (CLEP) that offers students the opportunity to earn college credits in a variety of subjects if they reach established benchmarks on subject exams.  CLEP is available in 33 subjects, has 1700 test centers, and credits are accepted at 2900 colleges, including several in CT.  Students may either take the on-line exam after completing a course for which college credit is not available (like it is, for instance, in AP or an ECE course) but an exam is, and they'll get their results immediately upon completion of the test.

Like standardized assessments, CLEP has its many critics as well.  For those who support the competency-based concept, they argue that demonstrated performance on a valid and reliable exam (constructed by college professors in their respective subject areas) should be sufficient for proof of mastery.  The critics contend that an exam like CLEP couldn't possibly replicate the classroom experience.  For more information about CLEP, go to The College Board's CLEP page.

A Review of How Credits Are Awarded

Speaking of value placed upon the classroom experience...

For decades now, the gold standard used to determine course credit has been the Carnegie Unit, with the amount of "seat time" (class hours per week) determining the number of credits awarded.  One more example of competency-based learning that's gaining traction on this road to mastery is actually quite glaring - the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the organization that created the Carnegie Unit, is now rethinking the unit's value.  This short piece explains why. 

Core standards.  Common assessments.  Competency-based learning.
It's another take on climate change.


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