The Complicated World of Education Reporting

A week ago I read an article describing how out of touch existing standardized tests are with the reality of every day life.  It was well written, and I took it at face value that a school board member would have the necessary “smarts” to be able to pass such a test.

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids” by Marion Brady was on The Washington Post December 5th, 2011.

I totally drank the cool-aide as a result of reading this article.  I went so far as to use the “tweet this” link on The Washington Post article to share it with my three followers.

This morning I was catching up on my Hacker News when I ran across the article “The Innumeracy of Educators, or Mark Twain Was Right” by Chad Orzel.

This article contained actual questions from the math portion of the FCAT test that was originally reported as being “out of touch”.  I read these questions and immediately thought to my self, well, OK, I do not see anything extremely complicated here.  I even went through and did all of them.  (Note, I am an Engineer.  Math is important in my job. I use it everyday.)

After reading this article I sat down and tried to figure out how the first article could have had me duped so badly.  As soon as I questioned how I had let the first article mislead me I immediately started thinking that the second article had to also be flawed in some way.

So I read both again. Then I read them again in the reverse order.  Here are some of the thoughts that popped into my head:

  • The title of the first article has the word “forced” in it.  Man, what a way to start me out in an indignant mode.
  • I am not sure, but I bet Marion Brady never asked to see the test that school board member took so she could verify that the contents were excessive.  I think Marion Brady needs to add a dash of skepticism and follow up to her investigation and reporting.
  • The school board member that took the test has poor reasoning skills. A number of the math problems described could have been easily brute forced. He claimed he had to guess all of them.
  • I personally would NOT want a school board member with that poor a level of reasoning making decisions for my child.
  • I love Mark Twain.  Even in a world that is moving faster and faster, his snark remains relevant.
  • Chad Orzel hit the nail on the head with his article, but it leaves a faint bad taste in my mouth in that he does attack the school board member by name.  I did not see any mention of him discussing the shoddy journalism that allowed the article out in the first place without performing independent review of the test/information.
  • I now wonder when the school board member says about the test”…are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable” still may have some validity to this point. But because he so badly misrepresented the difficulty of the test though is own ignorance/poor education I am less likely to care.
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One Response to The Complicated World of Education Reporting

  1. Cat says:

    Unfortunately that represents the average standard for “journalism” in today’s media environment. There is almost no effort to do any legwork. I hate to be all “these kids today,” but when I was in J-school, we were taught to never just take one person’s allegations and run with them without checking them out. So, you get a complaint from one school board member about how “out of touch” the questions are. Your first action after taking down his/her quotes should be to *get a copy of the test* or the test questions and get some independent perspective. But, mostly what happens is ‘he said/she said’ journalism – they get quotes from one original source and then, if we’re lucky, they go run those opinions/claims/allegations past some other source, often without any kind of context, then they take all the quotes and write up the story.
    Part of it is the 24-hour news cycle. All reporters are under extreme pressure to produce lots of stories in very little time. It makes it almost impossible to produce thoughtful, helpful stories that actual “inform” people and stimulate reasoned debate/discussion. It degenerates into a lot of noise. But, a lot of “journalists” themselves don’t understand that why just putting everyone’s opinion out there isn’t enough – and why, for example, reporting some average Joe’s opinion on climate change along with a biologist who’s spent years studying climate change as if they had equal merit might be problematic.
    /rant

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