Friday, March 20, 2015

Test Security

The Mickey Mouse Defense

The testing "invasion of privacy" scandal continues in New Jersey and the State Legislature held a hearing with testimony from NJ education officials to see "what's up."

During the course of the hearing, the test developers' "spying" on students' social media accounts was defended on the basis of "protecting intellectual property."  By posting messages with information about the tests they had taken, students were "guilty" of stealing Pearson's tests materials--so goes the claim. That allowed Pearson access to protected information about student identities on social media even though the students were using Internet pseudonyms. In the face of their "crimes," students lost all their rights to privacy on the sites.
Lock It Out Clip Art

Right or wrong?  As I've noted in earlier posts, the whole notion of maintaining test secrecy is educationally unsound. Legally? Apparently not.

All, right, let's accept that for now. I certainly don't want large chunks of my novels published freely about the Internet when I am trying to earn money from my writing. I've tracked down a couple "cyberthiefs" already. But a phrase or two from the books? I've published up chapters on Amazon Kindle and Bookbzz already to attract readers. It's hard to accept that one or two test questions compromised really matters that much. And again, if students are discussing in order to learn, perhaps it's not such a bad thing. Certainly, a book club would be welcome to share the whole plot of my novels if they had truly enjoyed them and wanted to share the experience. The fact is, if they'd all bought the books in the first place, I'd made my fair profit and couldn't really expect more.

Now, it would be different if someone made copies of my book and sold it to a new audience. But the fact is, the PARCC test has already been sold in huge numbers for huge profits, I'm sure. For an author, once all the books are sold and the market saturated, the only solution is to write another book. Maybe some new test questions? Just a thought.

The hearing presented "logical" arguments to justify Pearson's spying. My favorite is the Mickey Mouse defense.  In a nutshell, the presenter argued that if a student had prior knowledge of Mickey Mouse before taking the test, that he/she would have an advantage if given a reading selection or test questions based on Mickey Mouse.  I have no idea where the allusion actually came from but here's my take. (By the way, this would be a great place for a picture of Mickey, but Disney is very protective of its "intellectual property rights" and posting one would be a serious violation.)

Absolutely not.
Country Scene Clip Art
In fact, my third grade experience absolutely proves the theory wrong. I had had years of experience living in the country and visiting the city. (see post from 3/11)  When it came to taking the test, my prior knowledge failed me completely. The test was designed to force me to make my decisions on the correct answer based only on the material/facts presented in the test and nothing more. My previous knowledge and experience actually gave me the wrong answer.

In order to keep tests "neutral" test creators strive to keep the outside world out of at least the objective portions of the test. In the essay sections, perhaps, students may be able to use their externals knowlege and experiences to answer questions, but even then the test will often demand they cite examples from provided text to justify their opinions.

In essence, the test becomes a universe of its own, unrelated to the student's personal or educational life beyond it.

One more nail in the coffin of standardized tests.

What's happening here is that the value of the tests, both economically and educationally has been so overblown, we've all lost track of what we should care about. It's about time to do a little reevaluation of the whole system.

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