Or maybe it's a writing comprehension test. Anyhow, it's past the jump.
Read the following passage from Sam Dillon, "U.S. Students Remain Poor at History, Tests Show", NYT 6/14/2011:
Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision” of the United States Supreme Court in the past seven decades.
Dr. Ravitch is referring to a question on the 2010 NAEP 12th grade U.S. History test in reference to the following quotation from a Supreme Court decision:
To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority . . . that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. . . . We conclude that in the field of public education separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
The high-school seniors were asked:
The quotation is from which Supreme Court decision?
A. Miranda v. Arizona
B. Gideon v. Wainwright
C. Mapp v. Ohio
D. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
A reading comprehension question (for you, not for the high-school seniors):
What percentage of the students taking the test gave the correct answer, identifying Brown v. Board of Education as the source of the quotation?
The discussion below is in white letters on a white background, so that you can consider your own answer before seeing the spoilers. Highlight the text to read it.
If you answered "2%", you've been taken in by Mr. Dillon's masterful deployment of "kids today" rhetoric. The correct answer in fact is "82%".
Answer B, "51%", is the proportion who correctly answered the next question:
The 1954 Supreme Court decision overturned which earlier decision?
A. Marbury v. Madison , 1803
B. McCulloch v. Maryland , 1819
C. Dred Scott v. Sandford , 1857
D. Plessy v. Ferguson , 1896
Answer C, "28%", is the proportion who were judged to have given a correct or partially-correct answer to a third question about the quotation:
Based on the quotation and your knowledge of history, describe the conditions that this 1954 decision was designed to correct. Be as specific as possible in your answer.
An example of an answer scored as "partial" but not "correct":
The Brown girl had to walk past the white school every day to get to her "equal" black school. Her father took the issue to court — separate but equal is not really equal.
The scorer's comment:
[This] response mentions that having separate schools for African American and White students is supposed to be equal, but that it is not really equal. However, it does not say that the Brown case was meant to desegregate schools specifically, making this a partial explanation and not a complete explanation.
An example of an answer scored as completely wrong:
Separate but equal → segragation
The scorer's comment:
This response does not provide enough information to indicate an understanding of the Brown case. The phrase “separate but equal” and word “segregation” are present, but the response makes no attempt to indicate whether the Brown case supported or struck down these ideas.
It's important to note that these were chosen by the NAEP officials as representative examples of incorrect or partial answers.
Answer D to our reading comprehension question, "2%", is the proportion of students whose answer to this third question was scored as fully "correct".
I agree with Diane Ravitch that we need to view this situation with considerable concern. It suggests that test designers and scorers are not as skillful as they should be. It suggests that educational experts like Diane Ravitch don't read reports as carefully as they ought to. And it suggests that even the best of our news organizations are, as Jon Stewart said, biased toward "sensationalism, conflict, and laziness".