Saving Money by Making Tests Easier

Yesterday, the Washington Post carried a story where Maryland will dispose of written response to its high school assessment tests (required for graduation for the class of 2009 and beyond). Oh, the stated reason is not to save money, but that is the real reason.

Maryland plans to eliminate written-response questions from its high school exit exams to address long-standing complaints about how slowly test results are processed, state education officials said yesterday.

Beginning in May 2009, the Maryland school system will phase out “brief constructed responses” and “extended constructed responses” — questions requiring a short or long written answer — from its four tests covering algebra, English, biology and government, said Ronald A. Peiffer, the state’s deputy superintendent for academic policy.

Eliminating those questions will allow the state to process test results up to four weeks faster than before, Peiffer said….

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The move to a pure multiple-choice format addresses complaints from school systems about how long the tests take to be processed.

Written-response questions take much longer to grade than multiple-choice questions because they have to be evaluated by humans, not computers.

Some jurisdictions did not find out how their students had done on the High School Assessments until after the school year had begun, making it difficult to home in on students who need extra help to pass the tests.

Written responses have to be graded by humans, which means you have to pay humans, which means more money.

Yes, hand grading takes more time, and given that the exams are usually administered late in the academic year, there is a rational concern about the fact that grades are delivered later, which does present a problem. But here is a thought, why not administer the tests a little earlier in the year?

The material in the HSAs is geared to a 10th grade level. Students can take the test multiple times in order to pass. According to this flyer regarding the HSA, the tests for each subject (English, government, biology and algebra) are given at the end of each class, not in the senior year. So why not given the exam earlier in the year, or I don’t know, require biology, government and algebra of all ninth graders. English could be given at the end of 10th grade. Sounds like a smarter idea, then students have three years (or two in the case of English) to pass the exam. Schedule retests to occur in say October and February of each year and first time tests in the normal course of time.

Of course, retests cost money and that is the real problem here. Maryland wants its kids to graduate, of course, they just don’t want to spend the necessary amount of money to make sure they actually know what they should and have the basic skills necessary to succeed later, whether in college or in the workplace. Written communications skills are just one such skill area that is necessary.


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