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Standardized cheating
June 3, 2007 8:56 PM   Subscribe

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test is a continuation of the standardized testing Texas has been doing for the past 15 years, a good bit of which George W. Bush pushed as a way to measure teacher aptitude and school performance. The company that administers the test claims that cheating is "extraordinarily rare" but the Dallas Morning news found about 50,000 cheating students in 1/3 of all Texas schools. The most prevalent was the 11th grade science exam, also known as the one you must pass to get a diploma. The article even has cool coverflow-like visualizations of what a cheating school exam looks like. [via the journalist's blog, which promises parts 2 and 3 in the next couple days]
posted by mathowie (65 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Idiocracy
posted by redteam at 9:03 PM on June 3, 2007


Bill would stop cheating by eliminating test
posted by puke & cry at 9:06 PM on June 3, 2007


I had to take some of those in school. I think they were called the TASP back then. I don't recall any specific coaching or cheating, but the teachers sure did "teach the test" with a curriculum that didn't really cover anything that wasn't going to be on the test.
posted by ktrey at 9:08 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Let are kids walk!"
posted by puke & cry at 9:09 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


You would think that after all the bad publicity Bush's fake Texas Miracle received, they'd clean up their act. It comes as no surprise that Houston, where Rod Paige was superintendent before becoming Secretary of Education, is one of the two hotspots.
posted by gsteff at 9:18 PM on June 3, 2007


Fantastic reporting by the Dallas Morning News.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:18 PM on June 3, 2007


Sadly, ktrey, that's not uncommon and apt to continue with increased reliance on test scores.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:32 PM on June 3, 2007


Also, one of the sidebars describes why the 50,000 number is probably a significant undercount.
posted by gsteff at 9:38 PM on June 3, 2007


hey folks: as the reporter in question, this old mefite is glad some of you liked the story. as matt said, there's more to come -- i particularly like the second-day story that runs monday. that one's about the most cheating-happy school in texas.

(btw, it makes me feel impossibly old to see that my last metafilter post was five years and four days ago.)
posted by crabwalk at 9:43 PM on June 3, 2007 [11 favorites]


Is anyone reading this surprised in any way?

(I know that I was extremely surprised to learn that some of my classmates cheated all the time... back in grade 6. Since then I just accepted that half of the people around me were probably cheating.)
posted by C.Batt at 9:48 PM on June 3, 2007


Is Our Children Learning?
posted by amyms at 9:54 PM on June 3, 2007


Man, I've actually taken those TAKS tests. They replaced what were called the TAAS (texas assessment of academic skills, or something to that effect) in an effort to actually make the test useful towards figuring out what exactly it was us kids needed to know in order to graduate from highschool. I went to a magnet program contained within a normal school-- I think at one point we had both the highest and lowest TAKS scores either in the city or the state.

The questions on the test were easy for me and a majority of people-- and thankfully, my teachers didn't feel the need (or perhaps weren't as fully required) to teach towards the standardized test, but I know this is changing now. We were eventually taught towards AP tests, but that actually seemed to be academic things-- TAKS was all basic, basic skills that my classmates who were having trouble really should have learned in elementary school or the end of middle school.

It's easy to say we should go ahead and just abolish standardized testing, because it diverts real useful skills that the teacher could actually teach in the favor of those things on the standardized test-- but with such abysmal cheating results, and also poor test scores with high percentages of students, it seems as though there really just is a huge disconnect in the Texas public school system. Teachers shouldn't just teach the material towards the tests, but they should be interested in these materials-- and in order to do this, the tests shouldn't be so saturated with "sally wants to buy a car that is x dollars, and she earns y and already has z. How long will it take" type questions and instead filled with things people care about--it's not hard to make things interesting when teaching, it's really in the teacher and student relationship about the material. Sure, if the teacher and the stigma around the tests teach them as commonplace bullshit, of course kids will cheat and nobody will care about the tests. The higher scoring kids will continue and those who never learned the correct items will be penalized over and over again, caring less and less as they go on.

But it's not as though it is just the teacher and student attitude--the administrators treat it as a lackadasical requirement, and with Bush making it mandatory for tests that test towards no real end it's with no great confusion that I regard these tests. Honestly, I doubt he could answer some of the materials himself, but that's really not his place now, is it. Instead, money is put towards wars and jails and roads and almost no funding is left towards the schools, unless it's part of the private (and very biased) donation. It's no wonder public schools are doing poorly in the public eye and also in the administrative sector (with such a teacher shortage).

When the tests stop being jokes-- from both the teacher and student perspective, perhaps school will be taken seriously again from the administrative perspective, as well.
posted by stresstwig at 10:00 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


wow, those are some snazzy visualizations!
posted by treepour at 10:11 PM on June 3, 2007


I'm not personally an educator, but I work with social workers who help at-risk students in Austin public schools, and no one is ever at a loss for negative things to say about the TAKS test. Because schools' funding is tied to student performance on the test, TAKS is sort of becoming the curriculum, as opposed to an actual assessment of knowledge and skills on a broader, wider-ranging curriculum as it was supposed to be.

TAKS might work if it were a yearly pop quiz, but of course that would be impossible. Instead we get undue focus on a ridiculously mundane and unenlightening exam ("Which of the following things is not alive?"), more cheating, no accountability, and an ever-shittier education for public school students.
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:18 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ya see, here's a perfect example of the Peter Principle.

The man was highly qualified to be a hot-dog vendor at Arlington Ballpark. But, no: unfortunately there was no caste for rich hot-dog vendors. He kept getting promoted.
posted by Twang at 10:28 PM on June 3, 2007


What's the problem? What America needs is a good, steady supply of liars and cheats to occupy its industry and government. One honest person and the whole house of cards is at risk of falling apart.
posted by three blind mice at 10:54 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


What worries me is that if the kids were cheating . . . why'd they still get so many questions wrong? If the teachers were assisting, that makes it even more worrisome.
posted by thecaddy at 10:55 PM on June 3, 2007


As an old old teacher, I could rave and rant about how unwise "high-stakes testing" is.

But, to chase to the cut: It's bad in so many ways I can't even begin to count...

This story is just one of the more egregious examples of the results of this No Child Left Untested bill.

Every year, class sizes increase, and music and art and science and history get trashed.

It's sad.
posted by kozad at 11:00 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


What worries me is that if the kids were cheating . . . why'd they still get so many questions wrong? If the teachers were assisting, that makes it even more worrisome.

How many of their teachers were victims products of the same educational system? Maybe they weren't cheating after all, but only genuinely answering as they'd wrongly been taught.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:14 PM on June 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


the Dallas Morning news found about 50,000 cheating students in 1/3 of all Texas schools

Texas is getting greedy. 50,000 cheaters can't all get to be President.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:19 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


.
posted by pruner at 11:23 PM on June 3, 2007


The system will one day crumble. I say, good job to the students who had the wherewithal to refuse to recognise the legitimacy of these idiot producing standardised tests. The children growing up on things like google and wikipedia and metafilter are not going to stand for this system much longer. The 21st century is when everything changes.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 1:11 AM on June 4, 2007


Yes, these students are clearly freedom fighter revolutionaries!

Or fredom fiters rev... rev... fuck it, as they'd write.
posted by Justinian at 2:04 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


And in the state's lightly regulated charter schools – which are funded with tax dollars but run by private companies or groups – cheating was detected at almost four times the rate of traditional public schools.
Wow that's like being at home. Yours truly has a rather decent understanding and experience with english language, even if I still make errors and have pitfalls in grammar , but to my defense I could say that englis isn't my motherlanguage and I just can't talk english or write english all day long.

What's surprising is that I teach english to an...english college graduate !!! Yes, SHE hasn't half my knowledge on grammars, phraseal verbs and structures.

Where did she graduate ? A Private University.

Now clearly not every graduate from a private univ suck , but not suprisingly one is likely (at least in my experience) to discover incomplete and grossly overpriced preparation coming from private universities, in which one just have to pay the right person to "solve" some of the child "shortcoming".
posted by elpapacito at 2:10 AM on June 4, 2007


i feel obliged to remind the community of the social benefits of cheating. that's how nerdy freaks get to relate to cute blondes in high school!
posted by bruce at 2:42 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


bruce writes "that's how nerdy freaks get to relate to cute blondes in high school!"

Nah that's how they are exploited and get a nice, hot, steaming KTHXBYE when they are done. So they become mysoginist and not without a cause.
posted by elpapacito at 2:52 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is a very sad reflection on how we as Americans value education. What we end up with is kids going through the system that won't know how to learn, but will know how to take a test and cheat on it. It also amazes me that the administrators didn't know how to properly administer an audit of how the tests were doing.

Kudos to The News (and crabwalk) for this story. If you're reading this these comments, crabwalk, I'm curious about how the cheating came to light in the first place, and why your paper decided to follow up after the original investigation.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:57 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Remember: No Child Left Behind means No Child Gets Ahead.
posted by Malor at 3:51 AM on June 4, 2007


No Cheat Left Behind.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:33 AM on June 4, 2007


Nah that's how they are exploited and get a nice, hot, steaming KTHXBYE when they are done. So they become mysoginist and not without a cause.

High School: Fucking up intelligent, sensitive, naive guys since the 20th century!
posted by Talez at 4:42 AM on June 4, 2007


Your Child Left Behind

One unnoticed hidden cost of this fiasco is the demoralizing effect cheating in general has on honest students.

Good parents teach honesty to kids, cheaters do better at tests than honest students, tests are used to determine placement, cheaters get ahead, honest kids get porked, parents look like idiots.

The (new) American Way.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:51 AM on June 4, 2007 [5 favorites]


It's an American problem, but the schools in Texas, in no small part thanks to the education "reforms" of Governor Bush, are especially bad on so many fronts. I once ran a statistical analysis of graduation statistics and census data for a relatively "good" Texas small town high school and was able to prove they were understating their dropout rate -- primarily among minority and working-class students -- by more than 50 percent. When pressed they revealed an accounting fiction, which they subsequently denied having told me when contacted by a reporter following up.

Other studies have shown similar, or greater, understatements of dropout rates in many Texas school systems, and as this article confirms, schools in the DFW area were the very worst for this - and that's the most "Christian" and "conservative" area of the state, which is saying something. The schools themselves, in other words -- their administrators especially -- lie and cheat. So it's no surprising they are tolerating or (I think) encouraging cheating by their students.

Next time anyone tells you that bible-thumping red states are more "moral" than other parts of the US, remember this.

For shame, Texas.
posted by spitbull at 5:13 AM on June 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oh, and thanks very much for posting this mathowie.

And we wonder what the f**k is wrong with our kids: it's the adults who raise them and "educate" them.
posted by spitbull at 5:14 AM on June 4, 2007


stresswing--Where did you go to school? I too made the jump from TAAS to TAKS at a magnet-within-a-regular school (the last TAKS I took was two or three years ago). Fortunately for me, in the honors and advanced classes, a lot less emphasis was placed on TAKS preparation, which was a blessing, as I am a good test taker and didn't need the help.

spitbull--I just wanted to disagree with your description of DFW as the most conservative and christian area of the state. That has been far from my experience. Also, please don't start off with shaming Texas as a whole, or any other unhelpful generalizations. Instead, can we shame the system that exists within the school systems, largely due to Mr. Bush, that ties funding so closely with test scores that schools are driven to do anything possible to raise scores, even if it means looking the other way with cheating? Or at how teachers are underpaid and overworked, leading to the best and brightest either choosing not to teach, or working in an environment where it is very hard to challenge the broken system? Not to mention the fact that for students, if you fail the TAKS test, you can be kept from graduating, even if you have completed all your required courses, which is a load of bullshit. Some people just aren't good test takers, and the ability to take tests is what the TAKS measures far more than any sort of actual skill. I can see where pressure to pass by any means can come from.

So please, no "for shame, Texas" stuff. I'm a Texan, and I never cheated on the TAKS, nor never witnessed any cheating on it, and I've certainly been doing what I can to oppose this stanardized-testing-reliant school set-up, which is a disaster if there ever was one. Which reminds me of a conspiracy one of my friends has that Bush is actually trying to eliminate the public school system with all this awful No Child Left Behind stuff, but that's another story altogether...
posted by internet!Hannah at 5:42 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Eventually universities will just stop looking at high-school grades anyway and instead concentrate on what's important to them: money. The contents of your wallet will be the standardized test. Because free markets are the solution to everything, right?

Universities will auction off spots for the freshman class, so that any dropout will be able to get into any university, assuming they have enough money to outbid all the other anyones trying for that spot. All the extra money that high bidding would generate could pay for plenty of one-to-one tutoring by great instructors, and if a student's grades were still bad, the university could put that student's spot back on the block and the student would have to outbid potential transfer students to remain in that school.
posted by pracowity at 5:43 AM on June 4, 2007


The first chapter of Freakonomics discusses this kind of cheating in great detail, using examples from the Chicago school system. Same results - lots and lots of kids getting exactly the same answers right and wrong.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:45 AM on June 4, 2007


What worries me is that if the kids were cheating . . . why'd they still get so many questions wrong? If the teachers were assisting, that makes it even more worrisome.

Presumably everyone getting high marks would draw attention to the cheating. But if all the kids are doing 70-80 percent or whatever, it doesn't garner unwanted attention until someone actually looks at the tests, and not the results.

Which is pretty clever, actually.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:47 AM on June 4, 2007


At the risk of being pilloried: shouldn't kids be able to identify whether something is alive? And since when is buying a car something that kids don't care about? I'm sure the test prep is mind-numbing (I took TAAS in school and no doubt it's at least that bad), but the cheating problem would exist absent standardized testing; it was endemic at every school I attended after 5th grade and it's a lot easier to tell that there's cheating with TAKS than determining if one kid's been copying another kid's homework or getting answers fed to him by a teacher who doesn't want to teach him again the next year.
posted by amber_dale at 6:02 AM on June 4, 2007


I googled TAKS, and found .pdfs of past questions at state representative Scott Hochberg's website. The Google ad that came up for the site was for Brainchild, where you can buy classroom sets of preparatory materials.

Want to get into med school, but can't afford a Princeton Review MCAT preparatory course? Want to pass a high-stakes high school test, but live in a poor district? Yet more valuable lessons about how the world works coming your way.
posted by Killick at 6:12 AM on June 4, 2007


To answer a few of the questions that have popped up here overnight:

As for why are most of the answers in the example online are wrong: Two reasons.

One is that the example we highlighted on the web site is at the extreme school in the state, at Jesse Jackson Academy in Houston. (Day two of the series is all about Jesse.) At Jesse, which has a host of other problems, it's entirely possible that teachers doctoring the answer sheets didn't know the right answers themselves.

And second, our methodology (and others like it) catches cheaters who miss a number of questions a lot more easily than those who do really well on a test. A kid who cheats his way to a perfect score -- or a teacher who corrects *all* of her students' wrong answers -- really isn't going to get caught in this sort of analysis. In general, students need at least 6-8 wrong answers to get flagged (on tests with roughly 50-60 questions). But yeah, there are some folks we missed -- quite a few.
posted by crabwalk at 6:26 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Crabwalk: awesome work. Keep up the good hey hey.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2007


Also, there's a chapter in Freakonomics that deals with standardized test cheating. People are probably familiar with it, though.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:29 AM on June 4, 2007


I went to HS in Texas back when it was the TAAS, and we got no special preparation for the test. The only "preparation" I can remember was a little one-minute talk from the English teacher who said something along the lines of, "Remember, all that matters on this test is that you pass. An amazing score is no better than a good score, and this isn't the place to try to show off what little iconoclasts you are. Just write straightforwardly and logically. Don't fill your essays with irony, or try to be clever by using only words that start with "c", or try your hand at writing like ee cummings." I gather things have changed a lot since the TAAS went TAKS.

thecaddy writes "What worries me is that if the kids were cheating . . . why'd they still get so many questions wrong?"

When I was in Spanish class, there was a kid I helped cheat (po-quizzes, not TAAS). Our pop-quizzes were all multiple choice: A, B, C, or D. My system was that I'd casually touch the left corner of my desk for A, the right corner for B, stretch out my left leg for C, and my right leg for D. Somehow, the guy managed to fail almost every quiz. He was no idiot, but, as some people say, "standardized testing doesn't work for some people who are just bad at taking tests". In the same way, cheating just doesn't work for some people who are bad at cheating. He probably would have done better not trying to cheat and just guessing on the answers.
posted by Bugbread at 6:30 AM on June 4, 2007


Also, there's no reason (from our analysis, at least) to believe that cheating is substantially more common in Texas than elsewhere. I'd wager you'd find similar results in just about any state with a challenging test that students must pass to graduate. That's the perfect combination to encourage cheating: 16-year-olds, high stakes, and (in most states) mediocre test-security procedures.

Texas *might* be a bit higher than some of its peers, because it's been having a mandatory graduation test for over 20 years, and the entire system has had more time to get used to it. But remember, surveys always show 60-80% of American teens admit to cheating on a test in school.
posted by crabwalk at 6:30 AM on June 4, 2007


Re: dropout rates, yeah, those are generally bunk, in Texas and elsewhere. (Although, in this case, Texas is definitely worse than most other states. I've written a few columns about that, FYI.)
posted by crabwalk at 6:38 AM on June 4, 2007


SteveInMaine: It also amazes me that the administrators didn't know how to properly administer an audit of how the tests were doing.

What makes you think administrators aren't aware of the problems? High-stakes testing puts even more pressure on them than it does on the individual teachers.
posted by solotoro at 6:43 AM on June 4, 2007


If you're reading this these comments, crabwalk, I'm curious about how the cheating came to light in the first place, and why your paper decided to follow up after the original investigation.

Oh, that's way too long of a story for this little comment box. You can get a version of the background here. Basically, I started writing stories on TAKS cheating in '04, in a since-closed school district in Dallas where the cheating was both systemic and nakedly obvious. I've had an occasional tug-of-war with the state educational leadership in the years since -- they insist cheating is not a significant problem and that they do a good job catching it, and I write stories that find the opposite.

(BTW, shoutout here to Holly Hacker, my coauthor on most of these stories, a data-analysis guru, and owner of one of the great journalism names.)
posted by crabwalk at 6:49 AM on June 4, 2007


I took so many standardized tests going to school in Texas in the late 80's, early 90's I can't really tell them apart in my head anymore. I don't remember any of them being that hard, either.

One test, maybe it was the TAAS, had a multiple choice part on a variety of subjects one day and an written part the next. On the first day one of the kids who wasn't going to pass anyway decided to be a hero and open up sealed written portion of the test and proceeded to tell everyone what the question was. By the end of the day everyone knew and the last thing my teacher said before the final bell rung was, "Oh, and you'd be fools not to prepare for that written question tomorrow."
posted by Cyrano at 6:52 AM on June 4, 2007


This is one of the problem with trying to impose "metrics" When you do so, people try to optimize the metrics however they can. Nothing else matters. So, if the school gets fucked if students fail the test, then they are going to make sure they pass, everything else be dammed.

Here Bush was running one of the 4th worst school districts in the country, and he tried to make the whole country work like Texas.
posted by delmoi at 6:55 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'd wager you'd find similar results in just about any state with a challenging test that students must pass to graduate. That's the perfect combination to encourage cheating: 16-year-olds, high stakes, and (in most states) mediocre test-security procedures.

How many states have such a thing? I've never heard of that happening in any other state.
posted by delmoi at 6:59 AM on June 4, 2007


How many states have such a thing? I've never heard of that happening in any other state.

26 states either currently have a high school graduation test or are planning to start one in the next few years. (Source.) The list includes big states like California, Florida, Ohio, and New York.
posted by crabwalk at 7:06 AM on June 4, 2007


Really, delmoi? I can tell you for certain that in TN one must pass a "Gateway" exam for English, Algebra I, and Biology. (10th grade, so that they can have 2 more chances to pass it before graduation). It's actually pretty common: see chart
posted by absalom at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2007


delmoi, sounds like you're invoking Campbell's Law:

"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
posted by crabwalk at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


The fact that they had a chance to make the handy acronym "TASK" and instead chose "TAKS" isn't exactly a vote of confidence in my book.
posted by hermitosis at 7:24 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


One possible reason I can see for the administrative overlooking of cheating is, simply (if teachers think the same of the TAKS as they did about the TAAS) that they hate the test. My teachers were always annoyed that we had to take time out of class to take some annoying and useless test. I was in advanced classes, so cheating was never an issue (the TAAS was piss-easy, so we certainly didn't need to cheat to pass), but the general attitude of teachers and students to the test was annoyance and contempt. It was a very different attitude than there was towards things like AP test, SATs, mid-terms, or finals. Those were treated with a bit more respect. So I wouldn't be surprised if teachers (especially teachers with a zeal for actual teaching) put a blind eye towards cheating on the test because they were more interested in getting on with teaching than the fallout that comes from failing a universally reviled and useless state-imposed test.

(Not supporting cheating, here, just a possible guess. Personally, I never minded the TAAS. It was just a bit of paperwork.)
posted by Bugbread at 7:35 AM on June 4, 2007


Almost everything GWB and cohort have done or proposed in education can be understood as an attempt to prepare the ground for privatization of what remains of the public educational system.

In order for private companies to come in and efficiently take over ailing public schools, there has to be an instrument in place which can allow the private companies to show skeptical voters and school boards how they have succeeded in schools they've taken over in the past, and since those same instruments will already be in place as a measure of success at the school in question, boards and voters will be able to reasonably choose to privatize.

That's what these tests are for. They are that insrument. Everything else is spin and obfuscation.

The consequent destruction of teacher's unions, which have replaced the labor unions as the most important and effective footsoldiers of the Democrats, will be a nice little side benefit.
posted by jamjam at 10:33 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


With two kids in private school in Texas, we have watched the TAAS/TAKS debacle for years with somewhat detached disgust. Our kids (both middle school now) occasionally come home and tell us they spent a few hours filling in the ovals on the ERB test, which always catches me by surprise. We just never hear about it until a day or two before; the school does it because (I am guessing) their private school association subscribes to that particular standardized test. We get a short report with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and we pat them on the back or furrow our brows, as appropriate. Not much more is said.

Their cousins of the same age are in public schools nearby, and TAKS is a constant in their life. Every public school parent (I mean every single one) I have met knows TAKS intimately. It takes no effort at all to get such a parent on a rant about it; it's not even sporting. The contrast in curriculum is perhaps not a fair comparison, considering what we are paying for, but it could not be more stark. Yes, the private schools are more selective about students they admit, but there is still a range of abilities represented and as far as I can tell, testing has no detectable impact on curriculum.

I don't know how the TAKS compares to the ERB, format- or content-wise. The teachers that I know view it (ERB) as a necessary evil, but spend essentially no time worrying about it in class. It doesn't have any fiscal impact on the school. And I'm not saying there isn't cheating on the ERB, I just don't think it is much of a blip on the kids' radar at these schools.

Keep it up, crabwalk. This is what keeps me paying that D*MN subscription fee :-)
posted by skippyhacker at 10:33 AM on June 4, 2007


I feel compelled to self-link (sorry) my recently completed Senior Thesis paper: A Pedantic Position for Potential Progress in Pedagogy: A Renaissance in K–12 Education Through Good Design [PDF]
Introduction
The failures of American education in the late 20th century can be directly attributed to one problem—technology. In the late 1980s, we began a critical shift away from proficient information understanding and toward only basic understanding. This was the beginning of an era where we can find everything but understand nothing. To regain a relevant and effective position in the world, our public education will need to focus on teaching methods for understanding information, not systems for accessing information. Finally, the members of society critical to the systems of information access—designers—need to step up and usher in the era of understanding. Not only are there questions of authorship, ownership and audience that society must answer, but this paper will (eventually) attempt to answer as well.
Frustration with such cheating and test-reliance drove me to this topic.
posted by parhamr at 10:59 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks Killic for a link to the 2006 exam.

iirc, the science portion (at least) is vastly more simple than I remembered my grade 11 and grade 12 British Columbia provincial examinations (and iirc, "science" was broken down into biology, chemistry, and physics instead of being lumped together) were.

However, I was kind of (it's not exactly "evolution" but genetic mutations --> phenotype change" is better than nothing) pleasantly surprised to see this question:

Which of these best explains how mutation can be beneficial to an organism?

A) Phenotypic change may create an advantage over other organisms.

B) Recombined genetic material improves genotype stability

C) Mitosis becomes a favored means of reproduction.

D) Deoxyribose sugards develop into additional nucleotides.


One thing that always bugged me about standardized exams is that, while A is "which of these best explains...," the available answers aren't always really the best answers thus forcing one to choose the least wrong answer available (not that this particular question was particularly guilty).
posted by porpoise at 3:10 PM on June 4, 2007


Huh, there is a speciation question in that test too... wow (#44).
posted by porpoise at 3:12 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm one of the few daily DMN subscribers, and I do it only because of the caliber of stories the investigative team turns up. As a rule, the DMN sucks eggs, but when they let their journalists actually do their job, they turn in some amazing stories.
posted by dejah420 at 5:01 PM on June 4, 2007


SkippyHacker said: With two kids in private school in Texas, we have watched the TAAS/TAKS debacle for years with somewhat detached disgust.

Now that my son is reaching school age, the "teach to the test" curriculum of Texas schools, and the particularly egregious quality of both school infrastructure and educators in Dallas has got me trying to find an affordable, preferably secular, private school.

I had high hopes for the magnet schools, but we've already had two local teachers tell us that unless we started drilling him to pass the test by age 3, that there was no way he'd get into one of the 35 spots in the entire district. Apparently, parents are paying thousands and thousands of dollars to drill test answers into 4 year olds just to get into kindergarten.

I live about 30 miles outside Dallas proper, (still in the Dallas county tax zone), and the private schools around us are so Fundie that they don't teach evolution...and frankly, even teaching to the test has got to be better than teaching to insanity.

I never thought I'd have to freak out this much about kindergarten, really. I mean, high school...sure. College...absolutely, but looking at second mortgages to pay for elementary school, just because the public education is so incredibly bad? Man, how screwy is that?
posted by dejah420 at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2007


hey folks: as the reporter in question, this old mefite is glad some of you liked the story.

Every day the MeFi community amazes me more. Thank you (and your coworkers and infographicists) for the excellent work.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:18 PM on June 4, 2007


I'm reminded of the episode with the NY Post publishing the Regents Chemistry Exam answer key on their cover back when I was taking the course.

Here is the summary, and the aftermath.

With that said, I am confident that within NY State, at least a decade ago the test distribution was fairly secure as I worked at State Ed in that regard (even if it was a student May-August job). The scary thing about this issue isn't that students will cheat, it is that to get away with the sort of cheating indicated there need to be adults who are in on the act.

The real disappointment here would be if the education system blames the students without determining what teachers and administrators are failing in their duty to properly secure, proctor and enforce the tests.

I grew up with standardized tests in every subject every year, and I believe strongly that the system can work. The problem is expecting every student to reach the same level or building up only one or two tests to "high stakes" rather than making recurrent measurement part of the system.
posted by meinvt at 7:48 PM on June 4, 2007


InternetHannah writes:

Also, please don't start off with shaming Texas as a whole, or any other unhelpful generalizations.


Hannah, I am a lover of Texas. I lived there for almost a decade, and have published extensively on Texas culture. I didn't at all mean to shame *Texans* -- I can say with a straight face that many of my best friends are Texans, and I think the world of them -- but the state has serious problems with education that are in some ways specific to Texas (about which I've also written). I'm sorry if I was unclear, but I have a pretty good right to call Texas out, having devoted much of (second) professional life (the first was as a musician in Texas) to celebrating what's wonderful about it. Why, I'm wearing my boots in bed right now.

As for my characterization of DFW, well, OK. The metropolitan area is not the most conservative-Christian place in the state, but without a doubt, Northeast Texas is, more generally, and I can demonstrate it with any number of statistics. From DFW east to Tyler, the Baptist church in particular dominates local culture and politics in a way that is almost unique in the US, which is why you can barely buy a drink in most of those counties, and can't find many places to dance either. Southeast and South Texas are leavened by Catholicism, both Mexican and white ethnic. West Texas, while certainly religious, is far more libertarian in general political culture, which limits the power of the churches a little.

Things are changing, but I am sure I'm right. DFW is a big city, and big cities are never the most conservative places. But from Plano east, you better buckle your bible belt.

As someone who loves -- and I mean loves -- Texas more than any other state in the US, I still say that the public education in Texas deserves the epithet: for shame.
posted by spitbull at 9:33 PM on June 4, 2007


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