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The Testing Industry Gold Rush
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June 15, 2009, 10:56 PM
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One of the odder phenomenon is that as political correctness grows, so does that most politically incorrect of businesses, standardized testing. You might think that standardized testing would be a stagnant industry, what with the fact that it would appear to be the classic mature industry—there haven`t been fundamental innovations in testing since the middle of the last century—and that the results it comes up with are viewed with deep suspicion by the courts and the media.

And yet, it`s booming.

For example, when researching the Ricci case, I stumbled upon nine different firms that make up firefighters tests. And they are constantly being paid large amounts of money to make up customized new tests—reportedly, New Haven paid $100,000 for the test that Frank Ricci took—even though a national test would work fine.

Similarly, the passage of the Kennedy-Bush No Child Left Behind act led to the development of a huge number of new school achievement tests by each state. It was important to have new tests because the NCLB`s mandate that federal aid to states would depend upon annual progress toward making every single student in the state above average by 2014 on the state`s test could only be accomplished by massive fraud.

A frequent pattern was for a state to introduce a new test and make it initially extremely hard. When the first years` results were announced, the governor would declare an all-hands-on-deck educational crisis in the state. Then, the state would make the scoring progressively easier over the years, and the politicians would congratulate each other on how much they`ve improved schooling in just a few years. Unfortunately, on the various national tests such as the NAEP or the Iowa test, nothing much would change.

Now, the Administration of the husband of the test-phobic Michelle Obama is set to pour vast new amounts of taxpayer largess on this little industry to create new national tests to replace the state tests mandated by the NCLB, even though plenty of national tests have long existed. (I took the Iowa Test in California in 1966, for example.)

The AP reports:

U.S. to Spend Up to $350 Million for Uniform Tests in Reading, Math RALEIGH, N.C., June 14 — The federal government will spend up to $350 million to help states developing national standards for reading and math, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Sunday.

In the current patchwork of benchmarks across the nation, students and schools considered failing in one state might get passing grades in another. The Obama administration is urging states to replace their standards for student achievement with a common set.

Every state except Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas has signed on to the concept, but getting them to adopt whatever emerges as the national benchmark will be politically difficult.

Duncan said the government`s spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

The money will come from the Education Department`s $5 billion fund to reward states that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports. ...

Any tests developed for the new standards would probably replace existing ones.

Asked to explain the money`s focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive.

Developing assessments, by contrast, is a "very heavy lift financially," he said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. "If we`re going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them."

So, what`s the fundamental reason for why the government has been spending so much money on new tests in this decade? Because the politicians don`t like the results, especially the continuing existence of racial gaps. They`re behaving like a fat man who keeps buying more and more expensive bathroom scales because he doesn`t like what the old scale tells him about his weight.