It’s in the Lemurs’ Hands Now

By May 12, 2014 Uncategorized 11 Comments

The release of third grade reading scores on Friday detracted from what is normally a day of celebration for schools and test administrators across Oklahoma.

May 9th was the final day of the spring testing season. Now, I am aware that students in a few districts are still enjoying the opportunity to participate in the new CTB and Measured Progress Item tryouts. Sadly, because of the crazy antics of several hundred Jenks parents during last spring’s field tests, my district is having to sit out these fun-filled assessments. Dang!

The CTB courier stopped by to pick up our testing boxes from the Education Service Center last Friday. The requisite forms were all signed, test booklets were stacked, answer forms were sorted and banded, proctor forms and test administrator sheets were double checked, seating charts were copied, and everything was carefully nestled in the shipping boxes for the next stage of their journey.

It is a little bittersweet to watch this precious cargo leave the building. So much time and effort has been invested in the administration of these highly valuable resources, it becomes hard to say goodbye. But, it is reassuring to know that the assessments will be handled with love and care as they move forward.

In case you are in the dark about what happens next, allow me to take a few minutes to fill you in on the process from here. Until this moment, this has been a highly guarded secret.

Let me just say that NSA surveillance techniques was not the only classified material that Edward Snowden disclosed to his sources before fleeing the country. And, if you ask me if I have ever spoken with Edward Snowden, my answer would be no, so don’t ask me!

Anyhow, the boxes containing all of the state tests are now on their way to the Port of Catoosa for processing.  Here they will be placed on special CTB barges and shipped downstream to the city of New Orleans. After clearing customs, the boxes will be loaded on catamarans for their long journey to the island nation of Madagascar. Given favorable trade winds, the paper and pencil tests should arrive there by early July.

Once they are unloaded, they will be graded by a highly trained group of ring-tailed lemurs. Here is a picture of CTB’s lead assessment team.

Since this tribe of lemurs is nocturnal, most of their work will be done under moonlight conditions. Those tests which have not eaten, used for bedding material, or pooped on will be returned to our schools by August, or September, maybe October.

CTB/McGraw Hill spares no expense when it comes to recruiting and training the very best lemurs for this important task.

Below is the lead scorer, Bill. I know that many of you probably guessed his name would be Larry, as in “Larry the Lemur.”  It’s time to let go of your outdated stereotypes.

Anyway, Bill has been awarded the CTB Employee of the Month for 71 consecutive months. Bill wants you to know he has this whole thing under control, so just chill the hell out!

If you’re wondering why CTB would secure the services of lemurs rather than rely on human or computerized grading, it comes down to three simple reasons.

1. Lemurs will work for peanuts. And by peanuts, I literally mean peanuts, especially the boiled kind you can buy from roadside vendors throughout Georgia. They absolutely love the damn things.

2. Lemurs are completely objective and unbiased. They truly could care less if Susie Smith from Skiatook passes her fifth grade reading test or not. They are like honey badgers or Janet Barresi—they just don’t give a S@!*.

3. Lemurs are intensely loyal.  When Pearson attempted to horn in on CTB’s territory back in 2011, Bill and his band of lemurs attacked the Pearson sailboats and sank them to the bottom of the harbor. You remember that, don’t you? We were told Pearson lost the Oklahoma contract for “errors and delays.” Now you know the rest of the story.

Anyhow, once the test materials arrive in Madagascar and the lemurs eat the boxes open, they begin the long, painstaking process of grading each paper test by hand. They use sharpened rocks to punch holes in the answer forms to compare to the CTB answer keys. If you’re thinking this might introduce a little error to the process, you don’t know lemurs’ inherent penchant for accuracy. They take this job very seriously.

The lemurs are also intimately involved in the state’s standard setting process. To determine the cut scores for each of the assessments, the lemurs use a highly refined, scientific process called “mud” throwing. After a special ceremony in which the adolescent male lemurs consume copious quantities of fermented coconut juice, their bowels become .  .  . oh, let’s just say “a little loose.”  On Bill’s command, they begin to throw their “mud” at specially prepared targets containing the potential passing scores for each test and then “see what sticks.”

During the process for setting the cut score for Biology last summer, one of the larger male lemurs, intoxicated after drinking nearly two gallons of coconut wine, threw his “mud” to the very top of the standard setting tree. Unfortunately for thousands of Oklahoma high school students, the “mud” stuck precisely where it landed. This same lemur apparently was used to set the advanced cut score for third grade reading this year.

As they say, S@!* happens.

Of course, we will finally get our test results back from the lemurs some time next fall. By then we will be looking at a completely different group of students in our classrooms. Quite a few teachers won’t even be teaching the same grade level or class. So entirely different students and entirely different curriculum. Useful.

But, at least we will be able to analyze the results to assess our performance and gain some pedagogical insight. Ha, don’t be silly. The tests are now so hyper high security that not even Edward Snowden can gain access. Nobody in the schools is able to view, touch, taste, or even smell the tests. We have to avert our gaze when a student asks a question so we don’t inadvertently view a test question, be accused of cheating, and lose our certificate. So, from the results all we can really learn is that our students were apparently not very good at meeting OAS mathematics standard A.11-H7B-02. That’s really helpful.

Imagine if we did our own student assessments like that? We should just give the students back their tests with just a grade but no explanation of which questions they missed or why. They would learn a lot from that.

More importantly, if a teacher really needs the results of these tests to guide their improvement efforts, we  have bigger problems.  I am hoping that the teachers we hire are able to make educational judgments about the children who have occupied their classrooms for the last 175 days. That the hundreds of individual assignments tests, quizzes, and projects their students have completed have been able to provide some light on whether their instruction has been effective and their students are learning. Do we honestly need the results of a 50-question multiple choice test to inform our educational processes? By the time these test results return from their around-the-world trip to Madagascar, we have moved on. Way on!

Standardized testing does not help teaching. It does not improve instruction. Dr. Barresi and her fellow keepers of the status quo should stop saying that it does.

Even lemurs know this!

Artwork by S. Arledge

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