Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Testing Fairness, Outliers, and Racism

Oftentimes the importance of an issue isn't realized until it hits home.  The film Stand and Deliver tells the story of math teacher Jaime Escalante who's students (20 in total) all passed the advanced placement (AP) Calculus test in the 1980s.  The education testing service (ETS) (which administers the AP test as well as the SAT and a host of other standardized tests) thought the results were an outlier and launched an investigation into whether or not the students cheated on the exam.  In the clip above, Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos) confronts the investigators (one of them is played by Andy Garcia) from ETS and questions the motives behind the investigation.  He argues that the results would not be questioned if the students were from Beverly Hills.  The investigation later proved that the students passed the test legitimately as the students had to retake the test and all passed with a score of three or more.  The ETS investigators were just doing their job and anomalies have to be investigated but the way in which they are investigated can show bias.

Bias in testing is a universal problem and how the results are interpreted is certainly an inflammatory issue with a lot of time and energy spent to correct and quantify it.  As the prevalence of high stakes testing has increased, authentic cases of cheating have occurred as school funding is now tied to the results of those tests under the No Child Left Behind Act.  Recent cases of cheating on standardized tests have involved the principals and teachers supplying the answers to the students in hopes of improving school funding.  The photo below is of an art installation of an education student's opinion of high stakes testing.

The issues have changed little since Escalante's passed the AP test.  Policy makers often use the results of tests to demonstrate With the new ways tests are now administered the potential for cheating and questioning of results should increase exponentially. 

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