Friday, January 3, 2014

Test Administration Ethics

I've been perusing Pennsylvania's DOE "Ethical Standards of Test Administration," the study of which is required in order to pass your PA Assessment Administrator quiz (otherwise you lack the wisdom to proctor The Test). Because that whole business is farmed out to Data Recognition Corporation, it's hard to know how much of the ESTA to attribute to bureaucrats and how much springs from the fertile minds of corporate data wranglers.

The link is there in case you want to wade through this in its entirety. I just want to take a few moments of my blizzard-related late start to hit the highlights.

The ESTA are broken into three sections-- before, during, and after test administration-- and each  is split into do's and don't's. The ESTA document is six pages long, so let me just highlight some selected instructions representative of my own categories.

Communicate to students, parents, and the community what the test does and does not measure, when and how it will be administered, and how the results will be used.
I am particularly interested in that "what it does not measure" line, because supporters of reformy stuff have been remarkably quiet on what the uber-tests are NOT good for. If someone is willing to admit what the tests won't do, we might be able to make some progress in that conversation.

Maintain a positive attitude about testing.
This instruction is repeated three times. Seriously? It's the leading portion of the instructions with the subtext, "Be a happily obedient minion!"

Teach to the Pennsylvania Core Standards*.
Look- The Core and The Test are conjoined twins sharing one brain. I understand people who deny that, because I was in that place once, but here is the sixty gazillionth clue that these babies were never meant to crawl a separate path. Use the Core to prepare for the test. Use the test to measure the teaching of The Core. Without each other, neither has a puspose.

Make contingency plans for unexpected disruptions during testing. All school personnel must know what to do in the event of a fire alarm, bomb threat, HAZMAT incident, unruly student, etc
There's something special about equating an unruly student and a HAZMAT incident. This is the best of a series of instructions with the subtext "We're going to assume that test day is the first day you have ever worked in this school building ever and that you therefor have no knowledge of how anything works there."

Make sure the testing environment is comfortable and has appropriate lighting.
There is also a series of instructions for which the subtext is "We're going to assume that you are as smart as stone."

Do not... possess unauthorized copies of state tests.
One would think that The Tests contain directions to a lost city of gold, and I suppose given the amount of corporate investment opportunity resting on the backs of all this reformy stuff, that's not entirely off the mark. But there are tons of instructions dictating a level of safety and security usually reserved for matters of national security or the ingredients for Col. Sanders chicken coating. Test administrators are admonished not to look at the tests long enough to memorize questions, not to copy anything down, not to "discuss, disseminate or otherwise  reveal contents of the test to anyone." The precious must be kept secret and safe.

Do not... coach or provide feedback to students. Do not...erase or change student answers.
Because you're just a teacher, you've probably never given a test before. Don't help the students at all. Don't read portions of the test to them. Don't answer any questions about the test. Don't "alter, influence or interfere" with the test in any way. Subtext? "We know that we have highly motivated school districts to cheat on these. Rather than try to address how we have created a systemic incentive to cheat, we're just going to tell you real hard not to."

The directions suggest that the Commonwealth's subcontractor for this gig is used to dealing with untrained unmotivated minimum-wage grunts, because the directions are straight from the  Spell Everything Out For You On The Assumption That You Will Do What You're Told, No More, No Less manual. This is not how professionals speak to other professionals; this is how semi-professionals position themselves for future appearances in a courtroom.

But I do give these guys credit, because they have brought something new to the Orders for the Minions table, and that's the title. Let's look at it again.

Ethical Standards of Test Administration.

Damn. Doesn't that sound fine? Doesn't it sound like a higher calling, a noble undertaking? Yes, this is a far, far better test I administer than I have ever administered before.

I can totally see this catching on. Fast food restaurants will present training sessions about Ethical Principles of Hamburger Preparation. Shop 'n' Save will train its workers in Ethical Methods of Scanning Groceries. My garbage collectors will pause at the curb to have philosophical discussions-- "Yes, we could throw this bag of trash on the truck as you've described. But would that be the ethical way to load the garbage?"

I assume that the use of use of "ethical" here is supposed to serve a couple of purposes. One is to position these instructions as having a stronger moral imperative than the instructions on hooking up a blu-ray player. And that helps fuel the most important subtext here-- "You are not just a wage slave hired by the state's contractor to deliver and protect their proprietary, revenue-generating material, but a person tasked to follow a higher  imperative sewn into the very fabric of the moral universe." And yet, I have to conclude that in this case "being ethical" means "doing as you're told."

The guiding vision here is "maintaining the integrity of the test environment" and the "validity of the test," and boy, couldn't we all just write a few thousand words about what high stakes testing (prepared by corporate edu-biz for the state to use in implementing reformy stuff) has to do with those two goals. I don't have time, so let's just say this-- I would LOVE to maintain the integrity of my classroom environment, and would welcome the chance to see some valid tests.

Hey, I don't have such a high opinion of myself professionally that I'm above administering a lowly standardized test. And during the day, I'm "subject to assignment," so the district could tell me that my job is to watch grass grow or snow melt, and that would be my job (poor use of district resources, but still my job).

But this feels a lot like sticking me under a fast-food-preserving heat lamp and telling me I'm on vacation in Hawaii. It feels like telling a six-year-old you have a "super important job" for him before handing him Klondike wrappers to put in the wastebasket.

Tell me what to do. Give me my instructions. Just don't lie to me about them. And understand that I may find it ethical to make fun of you.

*PA is one of those states that has its own version of The Core because either A) we can totally do better or B) it's politically expedient to distance ourselves from CCSS. You decide. As with other similar states, the differences between our core and The Core are on par with the differences between Mary kate and Ashley Olsen.

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