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From the Kitchen Table

Manipulation by Test

by Peg Luksik

There has been much discussion about the invalidity of the Common Core assessments. There has been next to none about the fact that it is easily possible to use both the content and the scoring of these assessments improperly.

A few examples will illustrate.

Let's use the GED test, taken by students and adults who are seeking a high school diploma, but who did not complete a traditional high school. The May 11, 2013 Washington Times included an analysis of the new Common Core aligned GED test preparation materials published by New Readers Press. They are the largest publisher of GED test materials. The text is called Scoreboost.

The new GED test will included extended response items in Social Studies, in which the student will be given source texts to read, and then asked a question. The answers will be graded in three areas. The first area, called a "Trait", requires the student to "generate a fact-based argument" that shows he has a clear understanding of the ideas and events presented in the source texts and can cite evidence from those texts to support that argument.

If the student's argument is to be "fact-based", then the source text the student must use to support her position should have to meet the same standard.

The source text on the topic of American foreign aid, entitled "Does Foreign Aid Really Help?", found on page 52 of the book, reads as follows (emphasis added):

Those who support sending aid to poor countries do so because poor countries often have high levels of poverty, poor educational systems, an ineffective police and judicial force, and limited public services such as healthcare, transportation networks, and banking systems. They believe that when living conditions are this poor, crime levels tend to be higher. Poorer countries, because they have weak governments, often have areas that attract terrorist groups because no one is there to stop them from pursuing those types of activities. Thus, poor countries are often home to terrorist groups that are free to plan and carry out attacks on the rich, industrialized nations, without fear of being stopped. This is in fact what happened on 9/11 when terrorists from Afghanistan hijacked planes and carried out attacks on the United States. In this case, the terrorists originated in a country that had received large amounts of foreign aid from rich countries. Apparently, it didn't work.

The terrorists who flew the hijacked airplanes on 9/11 were not from Afghanistan at all. Of the 20 identified hijackers, 16 were Saudi, 1 was Egyptian, 1 was Lebanese, and 2 were from the UAE. Poverty was not the issue. The source text was not factually correct.

The students are then asked...

if rich countries should continue to give aid to poor countries, with examples.

A student reading this text would not be evaluating the information it presents. He would be internalizing it to develop the argument needed to pass the test. And since today's adolescents do not actually remember the 9/11 hijackings, the student would not independently know the correct information. So that student will just accept that the hijackers of 9/11 were poor Afghans, and will defend that information as fact without remembering where he learned it.

Information presented in a testing situation in a source text is more readily internalized than information presented in a textbook because the student is paying close attention to the information and so he can use it in his response. A student will simply swallow information presented in a test's source text without actually tasting it.

Now let's look at responses. The Scoreboost manual also presents a source text on Global Warming, stating that global temperatures are increasing due to the use of fossil fuels and deforestation, attributing Global Warming to human industrial activity and population growth.

The writing assignment asks the student to write a short essay with a "correct" explanation of "how human activity has directly contributed to the rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere" using the evidence from the source text to support their answer.

This is a political question, not a writing question. A student who does not accept the premise that either A) Global Warming is a fact, or B) that Global Warming is caused by human industrial activity and population growth, is in trouble. That student will not have access to evidence to support an opposing point of view in a testing situation, so their response will not be as supported by data. It's like those who agree will be taking an open book test, and those who do not agree will be taking a closed book test on a topic that they were not told to study for.

But even if the non-compliant student DOES somehow know the necessary information to build a supported argument, she will be downgraded because the test told her that the only "correct" response would need to accept the given political position.

A non-compliant student, then, will receive a lower grade than a compliant one on a test that is used to determine high school graduation, college acceptance, and possible college scholarship awards.

This is not measuring student achievement. This is using a testing situation to manipulate the information our children receive, and reward those who comply.

And it is, simply, wrong.

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