Sunday, July 17, 2011

Almost nothing can't be messed up with Arizona education

The state introduced a new writing test this spring, changed the way it was graded and raised the passing score. Officials hoped the changes would stabilize passing rates, which have fluctuated wildly among grades and over the past five years. The passing rates fell steeply. A little more than 50 percent of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders passed the exam, down from about 75 percent last year. Sophomores did better. This year, 68 percent passed, down by only 5 percentage points from last year.The former writing exam was an essay in response to one question. The new writing exam is one essay and 27 multiple-choice questions. The essay counts for 60 percent of the writing test and the multiple-choice questions, 40 percent. Because of the test changes, "this dip in writing scores was expected," said Roberta Alley, the state testing chief.

Dear Miss Alley,

As someone who spent an enormous amount of time and effort teaching writing this past year, I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed I am in how the state went about assessing writing this year. I do not believe the scores to be even close to reflecting real proficiency, especially as compared to other subjects. They do not even seem to represent a normal curve and paint an unusually harsh picture that makes it impossible to see year to year growth. A 25 percent drop in those passing basically means the test either then or now is wildly inaccurate. I would say now. On top of that, the multiple choice questions make as much sense as judging a cook by his or her ability to chop vegetables. How about we again give full weight to what really matters: the final meal? The holistic scoring gives the parent and teacher less data on strengths and weaknesses of the student, and is a clear indicator of where this is all headed given Arizona's meager support for education: A full on multiple choice test that's cheaper, less accurate and will only serve to further demoralize teachers in this state who get treated poorly enough as it is. I hope you'll be on the right side when that happens.


                                                            Jeffrey C. Turbitt

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