Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene
"Testing . . . Testing"
Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
The big story in the local media these days is testing "the testing" of Massachusetts students with the MCAS tests and the testing of Massachusetts teachers on a new certification exam. While lots of people have already offered their opinions about the quality of education in this state( or lack of it), few have opined about the quality or difficulty of the tests themselves. I mean, it's pretty clear that you can determine how easy or hard a test is going to be when you make up the questions. At least, I THOUGHT that was clear. Maybe not. To illustrate that (neglected) point, I humbly offer the Simple Test for Obviously Outrageous Predetermined Ignorant Dolts (STOOPID test):
- (Math) According to newspaper reports, it cost the state of Massachusetts 23 million dollars to administer the MCAS tests to 210,000 students across the state. What was the cost per student? (ANSWER: $110 per student).
- (Social Studies) Assume you are given a hundred ten dollars to spend on each student. What is the best way to spend the money? (a) purchase textbooks; (b) increase the salary of teachers; (c) construct smaller class sizes; (d) improve the quality of instruction; (e) disrupt classes for two weeks to give the students a test. (ANSWER: Obviously e).
- (Word problem) Each student was required to write at least 4 essays as part of the test. How many essays were written? (ANSWER: 840,000) The testing company has promised that each essay will be read by at least two readers. How many essay readings will be required? (ANSWER: 1.68 million essay readings).
- (Word problem) In order to correct the above-mentioned essays, the testing company announced that it will hire 175 teachers to each work a week over the summer correcting the essays. If 175 teachers work 40 hours each correcting essays, how many essays will each teacher need to correct per hour? (ANSWER: 240 essays per teacher per hour, or one essay every 15 seconds).
- (Essay) Discuss the quality of correcting you might expect based on the previous problems. (ANSWER: Answers will vary, though probably not by much).
- (English) Define "absurd." (ANSWER: See above).
- (Economics) If you design a test which you know ahead of time many students will fail, the result of such a high failure rate will mean (a) more money appropriated for education; (b) less money appropriated for education. (ANSWER: Answer is too obvious for words).
- (Ethics) Assume that first you tell graduating college students that a brand-new teacher certification test will not count; then you change your mind and tell them it will. Assume further that you do not reveal what will be on the test, how it will be graded, or even what the passing score will be. Assume that study or review materials are not available. How ethical or fair is such a testing arrangement? (ANSWER: This is Massachusetts.)
- Which is a more reliable indicator of a person=92s intelligence? (a) a college degree from an accredited institution of higher learning; (b) the results of one test. (ANSWER: Seems to be b).
- (Education) An objective test is very good at measuring (a) motivation; (b) creativity; (c) critical thinking; (d) dedication; (e) quality of a teacher=92s performance. (ANSWER: false).
- (Education) The Massachusetts Department of Education has refused to release to either the general public or to the test-takers the actual questions used (and the correct answers) from the recent teacher certification test. Is this a violation of (a) the "Truth in Testing" law; (b) sound educational theory; (c) common sense; (d) all of the above. (ANSWER: D)
- (Government) This being an election year, one can expect most politicians to (a) announce new plans to improve educational reform; (b) criticize teachers and local school systems; (c) try to use these tests as an opportunity to garner votes; (d) search for realistic answers to actual problems in education. (ANSWER: A,B,C)
- (Information gathering) The best way to determine the quality of teaching and education in the state of Massachusetts is to: (a) ask students; (b) ask parents; (c) ask politicians running for election; (d) construct a test wherein you know half of the test-takers will fail. (ANSWER: A trick question. None of the above. The correct answer is (e) ask John Silber).
- (Media Literacy) News stories about both the MCAS tests and teacher certification tests provide whom with the most ammunition for news stories, opinions, and ratings? (a) newspapers; (b) editorial writers and columnists; (c) radio talk show hosts; (d) politicians; (e) local TV stations. (ANSWER: True).
- (Statistics) Calculate the odds of these two tests leading to any real insight or meaningful improvement in our public school system. Remember that you live in Massachusetts. (ANSWER: Answers will vary, though not by much).
Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.