The hottest temperature ever recorded in the United States was 52 degrees in Las Vegas, Nev., according to Wikipedia. Prospect Creek, Alaska, recorded the coldest temperature of minus 63 degrees. I took a college entrance examination first in the warmest city and scored 500. In the coldest city, I scored 20, a whopping loss of 480 points.
The Herald-Leader's Sept. 29 editorial, cited some statistics about differences in test scores between elementary and high school:
"In math, the drop from elementary to high school was a whopping 27 points (from 73 percent to 46 percent proficient or higher) and in science 30 points (71 percent to 41 percent)."
The editorial continued: "There may be a reasonable explanation, but it appears that students are losing a lot of ground in math and science once they reach high school."
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Yes, there may be. The Herald-Leader's numbers may be little better than the ones I cited above. The issue is the scale upon which the numbers are based. The 52 degrees is temperature on the Celsius scale; the comparable value on the Fahrenheit scale is 125 degrees. The first test was the SAT; the second was the ACT.
The Herald-Leader's differences — which should be expressed in percents, not points — are from scores on different scales. There has been no attempt to vertically equate the tests (fancy words for making tests scores comparable). While there are straightforward rules for translating a temperature in Celsius to Fahrenheit, the process is much more complicated for test scores. Without equating the scales and making sure that cut-points to determine proficiency are comparable, comparisons like those in the editorial are not meaningful.
With the increased use of tests, one would expect increased sophistication about the proper use of scores and how to interpret results. That is not the case. At every level, one gets ridiculous test score use and interpretations
No Child Left Behind used test scores in reading and mathematics to make judgments about schools.
Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education requires placement in courses based on one test score.
Very short tests are given to eighth graders in Kentucky and interpreted to mean a student is or is not "on track" to go to college.
Fayette County schools use a short test to track a sixth-grader into a less rigorous mathematics course.
Perhaps school officials should look more closely at international test results. None of the high-scoring countries track as early or as much as does the United States.
A friend of mine asked me where I thought this recent, silly, unquestioned emphasis on testing came from. I don't know.
But it was not so long ago that a major purpose of testing was "in addition to," not instead of. A score on a college entrance examination was used in addition to the high school record for admission to college. A score on a placement test was used in addition to previous work in the subject matter to make placement decisions. A standardized test was given to get additional information about how students were progressing.
So the real problem with the editorial is not that it misuses test results and misinterprets test score differences. That's the coin of the realm. The problem is that it has been captured by this inexplicable infatuation with testing. Most fads in education fade away. Let's hope.