A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, March 20, 2006

ACT: a better solution to NCLB testing woes?

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.com:

Every high school junior in Missouri would take the ACT college entrance exam, and they'd do so free of charge during school hours, under a proposal presented to the State Board of Education Thursday.

The approach would mimic what's done in Illinois, where the ACT is used in conjunction with other exams to ensure high school students are meeting state standards.

Under the plan, the state would ditch most of the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, for 11th-graders and use the ACT.

But a number of concerns could derail the plan in Missouri. Some members of the state board question whether the exam is fully compatible with what ought to be taught in high school.

"You certainly haven't convinced me that the students have any material benefit" from the plan, said Peter Herschend, president of the state board.

The board took no vote on the plan, which is supported by a 27-member task force aimed at improving high school instruction. The idea will be debated across the state next month in a series of public hearings.

Supporters of the plan say that using the ACT will prompt students to take the test more seriously, since they would know it could affect their college choice. That isn't the case with the current state exam, which carries no consequences for students, some administrators complain."

There's more to the whole piece. I am wondering what effect this would have on students, first, before I wonder about the effect on test scores themselves. Every year I have a few students who SWEAR they will never go to college, and I wonder if they would take the ACT any more seriously. But for the college bound kids, this would definitely increase their interest, and would hopefully make the test less subject to the whims of test-writers who have laid some doozies on us in the last few years.

Another problem with this might be that NCLB requires that students be tested in reading and math. Of course, that hasn't kept Missouri from testing WRITING as a majority of the language arts test since its inception. I believe that writing as a discipline is much harder than the kind of reading that ends up on tests, and thus, the scores suffer. But I'll never forget the year we had the 32 Constructed Response Items on the language arts tests. 32. You know, if you can't figure out if a kid can write after about 9 or 10 of various types, then you've got no business evaluating students. A further peeve of mine concerns the Constructed Response format, which has become the default limit of length and complexity of student writing in many schools and classrooms around here. Students need to learn to sustain an idea, much less a thesis, for longer than 2 sentences.

But hey, no one in the Educracy around here apparently cares what I think.

Illinois has apparently been using the ACT for a while as their high school assessment. Anyone out there from Illinois with any info? Inquiring minds want to know.


At 3/20/06, 7:44 PM, Blogger educat said...

This year, we gave the Juniors the ACT during school for free. They weren't able to send their scores to colleges, it was only meant as a practice. I'd be curious to see if those scores in any way mimic our State exams.

I also wonder if the writing portion of the ACT could serve the same purpose as our Writing test.

Interesting stuff.

At 3/21/06, 9:11 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

The problem, as I see it, is that the ACT is supposed to measure a student's probable success in college. So the science portion, for instance, is mostly reading comprehension rather than a measure of the student's knowledge of facts and concepts. It's more conflating of high school and college. I think high school graduation ought to mean something other than college readiness.

In Tennessee we have tests called Gateways in specific subjects: algebra, English, biology, and I think they're adding U.S. history. My daughter thought they were pretty easy. They're an attempt to set some standard for what it means to have a diploma from the State of Tennessee. They're administered independently of each other, and a student is allowed to retake any of the tests many times if need be. I think that's better than a single grueling ACT exam, especially for those kids who know college isn't in the cards for them.


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