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Monday, April 23, 2012

My Commentary on the PSSA Test

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Image by USGS via Wikimedia Commons
Tomorrow, I find myself taking the last part of the PSSAs: the science portion.  This morning, while reviewing in my Physics class for this test, I was struck by just how easy  the sample questions really were.  For example, one showed a photo of the water cycle with three choices (one of them being rock cycle) which in no way had even the slightest thing to do with water!  If you knew that water was in fact falling from the cloud, you would correctly answer the question!

My problem with the PSSA itself does not have to do with standardized testing but a poorly made standardized test.  The fact that most of the 11th grade questions were just poorly modified 8th grade ones strikes at me greatly.  Is our education system that bad?  Am I finally witnessing firsthand just how bad it is?  Let it be known that I go to an extremely small school, but it has managed to provide me with an education for my future.

When I missed the writing portion of the PSSA for the Future Business Leaders of America State Leadership Conference, I was directed to make it up the next day.  Instead of having to wait on other students at the end of each section, however, I was directed to complete the entire test at my own pace.  What shocked me was the fact that I completed this test that took my school parts of two days in two hours.  In these two hours, I took it seriously (as I do any assessment), but it was extremely easy.  It was like a kindergarten version of the SAT.

The math and reading sections were just as bad.  These portions of the test took up three days of class.  Many students are in advanced math classes, such as calculus, during their junior year, but every student was directed to complete the same basic algebra problems.  The reading section was so easy that one of my friends actually recalled reading the same piece of literature on the 8th grade version of the test!

One of the most commonly asked questions during this test is, “Do I actually have to take this?”  The answer is no.  After completing a simple Google search, I have concluded that students can actually refuse upfront to take this test.  If their school forces them to, they can even go further and proclaim that it is against their religion.  Forcing one to take a test actually conflicts with the Bill of Rights and cannot be legally done by the government.

How could this test be fixed?  In its current form it cannot.  To become a successful assessment, it needs to become a test that measures all spectrums of ability and provide documentation viewable to colleges.  Instead of worrying about leaving children behind, government officials should worry more about allowing children to succeed.  After all, they will be our leaders of tomorrow, and I am genuinely concerned if they cannot recognize a picture of the water cycle.
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