High School Hustle: When tests fail kids
The refrain “I hate tests,” is nothing new in my household, but it’s usually met with an unsympathetic “that’s life – it’s a necessary evil” shrug.
After last week’s SAT exam debacle that invalidated scores for 199 juniors from some 50 schools who took the May 5 SAT exam at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights -- including my 16-year-old -- I’m having a hard time controlling my own rage.
What really happened that caused the Educational Testing Service to throw out the results of all the exams? We’ve been given little information, while witnessing a parade of finger pointing and of adults protecting adults. There is no evidence -- at least that we’ve heard -- of a cheating scandal.
And yet, there has been very little regard for the overstressed juniors who have had their scores invalidated and their test re-scheduled twice, with scant notice and virtually no explanation.
Of course, I want to know what happened and why, but it’s not individuals I want to signal out for blame.
Really, it’s a systemic culture of testing and their use that must be reconsidered.
By junior year, standardized state and city tests have become a constant way of life for New York City public school students, starting with third grade exams that can determine their middle school placement. By fifth grade there may be middle school admission exams, followed by a battery of tryouts and tests for top city high schools.
The ambitious will pile on intense Advanced Placement courses, while all the while taking Regents, practicing for SAT or ACT exams and preparing for SAT II subject tests as well.
Just thinking of all those number two pencils bubbling in little circles inspires brain melt and may require a small fortune in test preparation to get ready for them.
Often these tests are not measuring how a student thinks, but instead reflect how much one has practiced taking them. While it’s true that not all colleges require or care about the results of the SAT exams, the majority still do, including the ones that are at the top of my junior’s list so far.
The very least the Educational Testing Service can do is share the results of the May exam with students who spent months preparing for them. Even if they don’t count, the tests yield useful diagnostic information and inform decisions about how many more times to take it – or if it makes sense to switch from the SAT to the ACT, which is growing in popularity and usually can be submitted instead.
All we’ve heard, though, is that scores will be invalidated due to an “administrative irregularity.’’
An impersonal email promised a make-up test with barely any notice, along with regrets “for any inconvenience.”
Mid-week, students were then invited to take the test miles away in Coney Island on Saturday morning, leading to even more anxiety and an unanticipated decision about taking an additional SAT on an unplanned date in a far off location.
Naturally, parents were as pissed off as their kids, in part because they may have tried – as I did – to wrench an explanation from the College Board.
I got nowhere in numerous calls.
Neither did Valerie Frankel, who wrote a terrific column about it for The Huffington Post.
“What makes me apoplectic about this SNAFU? The attitude of the College Board,’’ Frankel wrote. “I've had two conversations with reps now about the matter, and their overriding response is ennui. A telephonic yawn.”
All week, while also taking multiple AP exams, my 16-year-old fretted about the make-up, weighing whether to cancel a concert performance and a soccer game already on Saturday’s schedule. A 5 a.m. wake-up call after a week of exams and a nasty cold seemed particularly harsh. .
By the time a decision had been made to go for it – aided by a promise of free buses from Packer -- we’d received another email noting that the exam had been re-scheduled for June 16.
I kept thinking of all the kids who either don’t have access to email or didn’t receive this notice who may have shown up for either the bus or the exam on Saturday.
There has still been no official explanation from The College Board or from Packer, although a story in The New York Times on Saturday said exam proctors had been “inattentive’’ and careless.
That memo must be made public so those of us who are questioning the testing culture can at least be told what exactly happened – and what didn’t happen -- during the exam.
We need to understand how schools are chosen to be exam sites and how much they get paid for it.
And are they given enough information and preparation to administer them?
Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a long line of tests that have been failing kids while their parents object to the overkill.
In the meantime, we are getting lots more emails from The College Board, although naturally no explanation has been offered yet.
The most recent email provided a code encouraging students to take more practice tests, and proclaimed:
“Being prepared for the SAT is a key to success on test day!”
That should also go for the adults.
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