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This place matters

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pompous Circumstance

I've had one and only one job that I've left without notice, and that was the job at which I graded standardized tests. Or would have graded standardized tests - I made it through one whole day of training before I left.
My would-be employer was a temp agency that graded essays for a company whose name we were never told. Essays would be graded on a scale of 1 to 5, and we received handouts giving example essays for each grade. Based on the content of the essays, it was pretty clear that the low-scoring examples were kids who lived in poverty. The instructor kept pausing to point out and mock the students' mistakes while the trainees laughed. 
Though numbers vary widely by school district, third grade students now spend over 20 hours of the school year taking tests, while eleventh graders can spend close to 60. These tests have high stakes - they affect things like teacher pay and school funding, so schools dedicate up to 150 hours a year just to test preparation. 
People today bristle at the idea of government and corporations controlling our lives - except when it comes to standardized tests. You've probably never even heard of the Educational Testing Service, yet few corporations have more control over our lives and the lives of our nation's kids. The Educational Testing Service develops so many national standardized tests that many, including Americans for Educational Testing Reform, consider it an outright monopoly. The big one is the SAT, but it also develops AP tests, the GRE, several state-level proficiency tests, and the Praxis. Educational institutions continue to use these tests even though the ETS's own data reveals the tests to be wildly unfair. 
The Wall Street Journal reports that the average score of students whose parents' combined income is below $20,000 is almost 400 points lower than the average score of students whose parents clear more than $200,000. 400 points is the difference between Harvard and state school, the difference between a full ride and no ride. This is in no small part due to the fact that the ETS sells expensive test prep materials to those who can afford them. No wonder the rich get richer. 
Inside Higher Education reports that Caucasian and Asian American students far out-perform African American and Mexican American students. FairTest.org points out that this disparity is partially responsible higher rates of unemployment, lower rates of pay, and lower college enrollment for black and Hispanic students. Certainly this problem exists in standardized testing across the board, but the ETS has more than adequate resources to research and try to find more income and race-neutral questions. But they don't care about fair. They don't care about who really does or doesn't have scholastic aptitude. They care about delivering a uniform bell curve.
Generally not-for-profit organizations are supposed to be trying to do some good in the world. This not-for-profit organization are trying to put more money in the pockets of their executives. Even though the organization's supposedly not for profit, Bloomburg reports that the company's CEO made $1.3 million in 2009 - more than the head of the Red Cross, more even than the president of Harvard. The company's execs are also compensated far more than the industry average. 
Why are we okay with this? 

1 comment:

Dee said...

Dear Brigid, I'm not okay with it. NOt now that I'm retired and certainly not when I taught. We need to be teaching critical thinking not test taking. And we need a level playing field in our country. Poverty and other social issues tilt that playing field in favor as you have said of those who have the money to pursue education. I'm so glad you are speaking out about this. I'm grateful. Thank you. Peace.

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