A Test of Adults

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The California educational test scores for 2010 are in. The results are unsurprising. There are slight rises in math and reading, according to the data, although it does depend on who you are and where you live. There is still an "achievement gap" between the haves and the have-nots.

I remember taking these tests in the 10th grade. About halfway through the math section, I looked up from my desk. I was the only one still working. Most students were either doodling or just asleep. They couldn't have finished -- I was OK with math, and I wasn't even close to the end. Before that moment I hadn't even questioned why I was expending effort on a test that meant nothing to my academic future. These weren't the SATs. Sure, perhaps three students in the state might be selected for a merit scholarship, but what were the odds that I would be one of them? I bubbled in "C" for the last half of the exam and joined the rest of my peers in slumber.

About a month later the teacher called out my name in class. She was handing out certificates. "For outstanding achievement on the math portion of the MEAP Exam!" she said. She beamed at me, proud, unaware that I was actually receiving the award for being slowest on the uptake.

As a high school teacher, I've seen the same glazed looks on my students during these tests. They understand that they are tools for adults, not them, and so they don't try. The few that do on the first day of testing are burned out by the third. Any basic statistic class -- or even just common sense -- would tell you that this skewers the data. And yet we spend millions of dollars every year implementing these exams. In the 20 years since I took them, we still haven't figured out that they do not work.  And yet we persist.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perhaps we should consider why this man -- whom we collectively agree was a genius -- did so poorly in school.


With a Perspective, I'm Shumit DasGupta.