July 20, 2006

A bookstore provides the secret to standardized testing

I've been working today in the air-conditioned comfort of a bookstore café, eating and drinking my way through the next few pages. My task today: finish the description of standardized test characteristics key to accountability. Two of them—comparability and consistency—set the stage for test preparation. Because tests sort students either explicitly or implicitly, and because they do so on a consistent basis (which I consider to be broader than the technical reliability of test scores), someone can predict test construction and figure out how to beat the test. Princeton Review has used Adam Robinson's "Joe Bloggs" approach to make millions off middle-class families' test anxieties for a quarter-century now. The existence of test-preparation both reinforces the belief that one can game the system without actually teaching students more about a subject and also creates a certain problem with test scores: how much is the test score a reflection of what students know (which we'd like to measure—wishing away a bunch of other test issues), and how much is it a reflection of test-wiseness (which we should expect to be distributed unequally in society)? Whoops.

I've known about the Joe Bloggs approach since the 1980s but was curious how Princeton Review modified it for computer-administered "adaptive tests," where you can't rely on a paper-and-pencil progression of difficulty. I wrote most of the passage, and then I took a break and walked around the books. Are there any Princeton Review books targeted at adaptive tests? Yes! And it turns out that while the Joe Bloggs technique is a little less useful for adaptive tests, it still personifies error as Joe Bloggs's answers, the relative attractiveness of different answers in the context of item difficulty.

A quick trip back to the café and a sentence or two more, and the passage was complete.

On the multiblog The Wall of Education today is my entry on another subject, Russ Whitehead Doesn't Know Daniel. Unfortunately, Jack wasn't available to be ignored by Dr. Whitehead.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on July 20, 2006 4:21 PM |