« In defense of 'making' money |
Blog Home Page
| Trash Story; From Video to Reality »
May 17, 2010
Politicizing standard testing
Apologists trying to explain the differences in achievement scores on standardized tests among various racial, religious, ethnic, genders and variously challenged groups routinely offer up the excuse of cultural bias, as in the test questions are dependent on knowledge of the dominant culture and/or require test taking ability rather than measure real knowledge. Dutifully taking the criticisms to heart, the test developers rephrased questions, broadened problems, modified the test style and after rigorously testing the tests for neutrality once again sent them out to the schools. The achievement differences remained.
However, consciousness raised, anxious to avoid backlash and assuring us of the integrity of their tests, the test developers insisted their questions were culturally neutral. Thus, no achievement test company would ever pose this question and accompanying task:
"The police have the right to require identification papers proving legal residence in this country from individuals stopped for other infractions of the law. Governor Jan Brewer (R), Arizona. Discuss."
While the question is worthy of discussion, assessing how well students marshal arguments clearly stating their position, the author of the quote is controversial, perhaps affecting students' essays. And so it is rather puzzling that the College Board, the company that designs the questions for the Advanced Placement exams, which give high school students college credit upon passing the tests with a certain score, would include the following for students to explain.
"Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and its native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. Edward Said, Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic."
Writing in The Forward, Debra Nussbaum Cohen describes the shock several bright, politically and culturally aware students felt upon suddenly coming on this assignment in the midst of taking the AP exams.
"I was really startled to see that quote because both of the practice questions didn't mention the writers' nationalities," said Ayelet Pearl, a senior at New York's Bronx High School of Science. "For me including this one clearly had political implications."
Another student protestor, Alyssa Blumenthal, 17, noticed a strange discrepancy on the AP test, objecting
to the identification accompanying Said's quote about exile, not the text itself. It was, she said, more detailed than the identifications of other authors, if they were even described at all.
These sharp adolescents apparently exposed the professional weakness, or maybe it is arrogance, forcing a quick--and inaccurate reply from a College Board representative.
Hmmmm, only two writers in several years worth of tests are identified with more than a name. And what are the similarities between Said and Desai? Discuss. If this happened to be a Saturday Night Live skit, two token dark skinned individuals with strange accents would mock the pale others who would in turn mock them to the sounds of uneasy audience giggles. But this isn't a throwaway joke, it is real life; the answers to these questions can affect the girls' grades, their accumulation of the proper amount of credits for graduation and maybe even their college acceptance.
Undaunted, the two teenagers quickly struck back in contemporary style, creating
which already has nearly 500 members rigorously discussing, responding.
Thus far, the situation hasn't been resolved. But had these girls been in my class, these two would have passed with an A+. The College Board's response would be a failure. But will the politically correct colleges of the girls' choice admit them on the basis of their non pc protest? Discuss.