When I was in tenth grade, I took a course called Biological Sciences Curriculum Studies (BSCS). It was a course known for its rigor and for its exceedingly tough tests.
The security on these tests? Absolutely zero. We took them as take-home tests. We had test-taking parties. We called up older siblings who were biology majors. The teacher knew we did these things. The teacher did not care, and it did not matter, because the tests required reasoning and application of the basic understanding of the scientific concepts. It wasn't enough, for instance, to know the parts of a single-celled organism-- you had to work out how those parts were analogous to the various parts of a city where the residents made pottery. You had to break down the implications of experimental design. And as an extra touch, after taking the test for a week outside of class, you had to take a different version of the same test (basically the same questions in a different order) in class.
Did people fail these zero-security take home tests? Oh, yes. They did.
I often think of those tests these days, because they were everything that modern standardized test manufacturers claim their tests are.
Test manufacturers and their proxies tell us repeatedly that their tests require critical thinking, rigorous mental application, answering questions with more than just rote knowledge.
They are lying.
They prove they are lying with their relentless emphasis on test security. Teachers may not look at the test, cannot so much as read questions enough to understand the essence of them. Students, teacher, and parents are not allowed to know anything specific about student responses after the fact (making the tests even less useful than the could possibly be).
And now, of course, we've learned that Pearson apparently has a super-secret cyber-security squad that just cruises the interwebs, looking for any miscreant teens who are violating the security of the test and calling the state and local authorities to have that student punished(and, perhaps, mounting denial of service attacks on any bloggers who dare to blog about it).
This shows a number of things, not the least of which is what everyone should already have know-- Pearson puts its own business interests ahead of anything and everything.
But it also tells us something about the test.
You know what kind of test need this sort of extreme security? A crappy one.
Questions that test "critical thinking" do not test it by saying, "Okay, you can only have a couple of minutes to read and think about this because if you had time to think about it, that wouldn't be critical thinking." A good, solid critical thinking question could take weeks to answer.
Test manufacturers and their cheerleaders like to say that these tests are impervious to test prep-- but if that were true, no security would be necessary. If the tests were impervious to any kind of advance preparation aimed directly at those tests, test manufacturers would be able to throw the tests out there in plain sight, like my tenth grade biology teacher did.
A good assessment has no shortcuts and needs no security. Look at performance-based measures-- no athlete shows up at an event and discovers at that moment, "Surprise! Today you're jumping over that bar!"
Authentic assessment is no surprise at all. It is exactly what you expect because it is exactly what yo prepared for, exactly what you've been doing all along-- just, this time, for a grade.
Big Stupid Test manufacturers insist that their test must be a surprise, that nobody can know anything about it, is a giant, screaming red alarm signal that these tests are crap. In what other industry can you sell a customer a product and refuse to allow them to look at it! It's like selling the emperor his new clothes and telling him they have to stay in the factory closet. Who falls for this kind of bad sales pitch? "Let me sell you this awesome new car, but you can never drive it and it will stay parked in our factory garage. We will drive you around in it, but you must be blindfolded. Trust us. It's a great car." Who falls for that??!!
The fact that they will go to such extreme and indefensible lengths to preserve the security of their product is just further proof that their product cannot survive even the simplest scrutiny.
The fact that product security trumps use of the product just raises this all to a super-kafka-esque level. It is more important that test security be maintained than it is that teachers and parents get any detailed and useful information from it. Test fans like to compare these tests to, say, tests at a doctor's office. That's a bogus comparison, but even if it weren't, test manufacturers have created a doctors office in which the doctor won't tell you what test you're getting, and when the test results come back STILL won't tell you what kind of test they gave you and will only tell you whether you're sick or well-- but nothing else because the details of your test results are proprietary and must remain a secret.
Test manufacturers like Pearson are right about one thing-- we don't need the tests to know how badly they suck, because this crazy-pants emphasis on product security tells us all we need to know. These are tests that can't survive the light of day, that are so frail and fragile and ineffectual that these tests can never be tested, seen, examined, or even, apparently, discussed.
Test manufacturers are telling us, via their security measures, just how badly these tests suck. People just have to start listening.