Friday, May 30, 2003

My FCAT Rant-Florida has implemented math and literacy standards for high school graduates; they now have to get a passing score of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in order to graduate. Students get six tries at the test during their high-school days. Of course, minority students are underperforming and the usual suspects on the black left are going postal over standardized testing; here's Fox's piece on the topic. I remember hearing an similar NPR piece on the way into work last week where a well-meaning black lady bemoaned the fact that a lot of kids who had good grades and had done their community service requirements won't graduate because they can't pass the FCAT. The problem with the lady's critique is that passing grades aren't a guarantee that people can read and write. There is a lot of grade inflation, where kids who do no work get D's anyway for teachers aren't allowed to give too many failing grades; teachers who give "too many" students Fs have frequent trips to the principals office justifying their grading. Such grade inflation leads to social promotion, passing kids along who haven't learned anything that year. Community service isn't graded; showing up and following directions is all that is required. There's next to nothing in community service projects that will show that a student can do the three Rs. We need to have some way to independently check how a student is doing away from the PC grade-inflation environment of many schools. Yes, standardized tests aren't perfect; schools tend to "teach to the test" and some ethnic groups doesn’t do as well, holding knowledge-level constant, on standardized tests. However, test like the FCAT give an objective view of how a student is doing on the material tested upon. You can question what's on the test and the format of the test, but it is the objective nature of the test that is the crucial factor; the principal can't tell the FCAT to give Johnny an extra 10 points because the class' score is too low. Parents in poorer-performing minority neighborhoods are the ones who need to hear an objective opinion on how their kids are doing. Instead of shooting the messenger of declaring state leaders to be demonic Hitlers, they might want to ask the harder questions of why Johnny's not doing well on this standardized test. They might want to spend more time checking their kid's homework and checking their friends to see if they are encouraging scholarship rather than gansta rappers. The FCAT and other standardized test around the country aren't perfect, but they are a needed corrective for a system that is afraid to challenge children and their parents to have them perform better. If teachers are "teaching to the test" then they are at least doing something constructive, assuming that the skills the test looks at are useful ones. Expect the FCATs of the world to continue and expect the usual suspects on the black left to continue to she-dog over them.

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