Standardized tests are labeling too many students as failing

Marion Brady, writing in The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post, asks the interesting question of whether publishers of text books, tests, and test-prep materials are designing tests to have a high enough failure rate to spur more sales. What is her theory about how they do this?

It’s easy. Make the passages to be read boring. Ask questions that have more than one right answer but count only one answer as correct. Throw in a few unfamiliar words or references. Increase the length of sentences. Make the test so long that fatigue or impatience set in. Add a few trick questions. Increase stress levels by setting a too-short completion time. Or, easiest of all, just arbitrarily raise the passing score.

Brady thinks No Child Left Behind has created a marketing opportunity for tests that label too many students as poor readers. Brady, a veteran teacher . administrator, curriculum designer and author, states, “there’s not one shred of evidence that standardized tests are a more accurate and useful measure of learner performance than teacher judgment.”

Brady also questions the practice of timing standardized tests. She quotes one reading expert who says, “what we actually do is assess how well a population performs under testing conditions rather than testing what they actually know.”

Why should students have to get a special diagnosis of a type of learning disability in order to have extra time for a test? Why not get rid of time constraints and let all students think carefully and take the time they need to answer questions?

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