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Friday, November 17, 2006

Standardized testing frustration

Standardized testing instills anxiety in even the smartest of students. Okay, that's a lie...I was a good tester and never really felt nervous walking into a test after my first foray into the SAT world as a seventh grader. However, I'm feeling that anxiety now, as an adult. My feeling is that the testing has become less and less reliable, despite supposed improvements.

Last year, months after the first widespread administration of the "new" SAT (the new format included a writing section), ETS announced that a large number of test results were flawed. The problem: the score sheets had been exposed to extreme humidity which made the machine that read the sheets unable to scan them correctly. ETS notified us of about 70 scores that were higher than previously reported after they found their error. However, they decided it wouldn't be fair to correct scores that had been higher before the error was found. Hm.

So, a year later, I feel the need to tell every student who asks about our SAT score averages about the data possibly being bad. They all seem surprised, which makes me think very few, if any, schools are saying the same. Bad data = bad statistics.

Now, on top of that, I've been keeping any eye on the scores for the essay in the new section of the exam. The essay is scored by two readers, who rate it on a 1-6 scale. The two scores are added, so the highest score possible is a 12. In a year of reading essays (and some of the essays I see are beautifully done), I saw one 12, a few 10s and 11s, and a slew of scores from 6 to 8. I also saw a few 4s. What does this tell me? That most students can throw enough on paper for 25 minutes to get an average score, but that few students can put together a brilliant essay in that amount of time. This makes it hard to spend much more than a second or two glancing at that score.

Cut to present day. We're hearing that there are many, many problems being reported with the October administration of the SAT. Colleagues from the high school side are saying their students are seeing scores cancelled or reports that they ordered sent to colleges not being sent, and some complaints about the actual testing environment at a few schools.

For the first time in my career, I had ETS call me to ask if they sent us some scores! When I questioned the person who called me about what prompted the call, she danced around the fact that they had complaints about schools not receiving scores that were sent.

This post is deliberately disjointed. It seems as there are problems in almost every area of operation at ETS. What is going on? How can a company with so much money and so many resources make so many errors?