Roach, the father of five children and grandfather of two, was a teacher, counselor and coach in Orange County for 14 years. He was first elected to the board in 1998 and has been reelected three times. A resident of Orange County for three decades, he has a bachelor of science degree in education and two masters degrees: in education and educational psychology. He has trained over 18,000 educators in classroom management and course delivery skills in six eastern states over the last 25 years.
How did he do? From the original blog post:
“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.”
Shocking, no? Well, not so much. After all, we’ve been down this road before at ScienceBlogs, back in the very early days, when Dave Munger and I put together the Blogger SAT Challenge, and found that people who spend a lot of time writing stuff on the Internet got below-average scores when asked to do an SAT writing question.
I think Roach’s failure can be attributed in large part to the same factor that brought down a lot of the Challenge participants, namely that taking tests is a skill in itself, and requires some practice. If you haven’t recently sat down in a chair and tried to answer a bunch of random questions in a limited amount of time, you are going to have a little trouble with it. Particularly if it’s testing material you haven’t used in a long time.
(Now, of course, there’s a legitimate question to be raised over Roach’s claim that he doesn’t even know anybody who knows how to do those math problems. This doesn’t speak well for somebody who helps run a school where they, you know, employ people who are supposed to teach how to do those math problems…)
This explanation is raised and then pooh-poohed in the articles, but I think it’s a bigger factor than they let on. Test taking is a skill, and it’s one of the skills most reliably tested by taking tests. Without practice, test taking ability will weaken a bit, and that will be reflected in somewhat lower scores.
Now, as someone who is not a big fan of high-stakes testing, you might think I’d be all over this story as proof that it’s all a bunch of crap. I’m pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, though, in large part because of the way Roach phrases his self-defense/ complaints with the test:
“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”
As someone who quite regularly has to teach introductory physics to students who struggle with it because they have a shaky grasp of tenth-grade math, I’m really not any happier with the notion of arranging graduation standards around what Mr. Roach thinks of as practical life requirements than I am with the idea of high-stakes standardized testing under the current regime. Frankly, the whole story just makes me faintly depressed about everybody involved, but particularly the adults with multiple education degrees who can’t see the relevance of tenth-grade math.