Friday, July 17, 2009

Unspeak Bonanza

Well, it's Friday and the Daily News has come through with an educational unspeak bonanza. Unspeak, you may recall, is the art of making an argument without actually making an argument. It's about picking language that seeks to preclude any disagreement (think "support the middle class," whatever that means). Education is chock full of unspeak and the Daily News tapped into the motherlode this week.

In the article, "test experts" say that the tests being given to city kids are getting easier, which means more kids are passing and moving on to the next grade. In other words, standards are being dumbed down to undermine accountability and that's leading to social promotion. Holy unspeak!

Frankly, I don't habe the background or the data in front of me to agree or disagree with the claims. DOE says that the tests have gotten harder so they're requiring fewer correct answers to show proficiency. Critics say that it's a game to make the schools look better and reflect more favorably on the Mayor (juking the stats, as they'd say in The Wire).

That said, it sure does look bad. According to the story, on this year's test kids needed to answer 28% of questions correctly to be judged proficient. When you remember that these are multiple choice tests with four possible answers (and thus someone who guesses randomly on every question should figure on answering 25% of the questions correctly) that seems pretty low. A slilghtly lucky kid could simply guess his way to proficiency.

I guess the real question here is whether standardized testing is really the best way to assess standards. Unspeak though they may be, I agree that there needs to be some baseline of what kids should learn in school. I just doubt the bubble filling and all the drama and juking that comes with it is really the best way.

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