She goes to one of the state’s best schools

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We were talking about standardized testing and some issues were put on the table that don’t often hit this blog. Because I teach in a lower-scoring, financially-disadvantaged district, my posts often deal with issues particular to this milieu. In the district where I work, we are trying to bring our ACT’s up so that more students from the district reach that 21 or so that suggests a student may be able to survive college coursework.

This girl had a 27*, a score that can get her into the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and many other fine schools. Her worries are different. She believes her score has been impacted by that fact that she is a slower and more meticulous test-taker. That’s entirely likely. ACT tests are designed so that students often don’t finish a section.

I’ll call this girl “Angie.” Angie objected to the accommodations that gave other students extra time. English-language learners and special education students may get extra time. Students with savvy Northshore parents may be entitled to extra time because their parents know how to work the system. I believe I could have gotten extra time for my younger child, for example, due to documented OCD issues, despite the fact that this child has always excelled academically to the point of being a National Merit Finalist. Parents in this upscale school district regularly hire tutors for their children. One child who used to regularly visit my house had five tutors until dad finally got her score up to 27. We take the ACT seriously in this suburb.

Eduhonesty: Upon short reflection, I added this issue to my list of reasons why high-stakes testing has gotten far too much public support. Ironically, as we attempt to level the playing field for urban and/or financially disadvantaged students, we are actually creating a system that puts these students at a further disadvantage. The students where I work don’t have the resources to hire tutor after tutor. Many parents in my work-district did not finish high school themselves. Unemployment and underemployment runs high here. Parents who have recently arrived from other countries especially don’t understand the pivotal role of the ACT in college applications — or in high school perceptions. Guidance counselors will provide an enormous amount of help to a child who scored 25 on the ACT, but very little help to a child who scored 16. One child has been tracked for possible college by a number. The other child plunged off that track when the score results came back.

I will note that a score of 16 indicates little chance of college success. As a former student once said, “I think they give you fifteen just for breathing.” But parents in my work-district too often don’t know how to help their kids fight for the numbers.
And in this data-driven, numbers-based culture that we are creating, numbers can be destiny.

Angie understands how the numbers work. She is going to be fine, although she has a legitimate complaint. But I look at the many parents where I live who do not hesitate to pony up $60 per hour or more for tutors to help with daily coursework, regular tests and standardized tests, and I see a gaping inequity, one that can’t be covered by occasional afternoons of free, afterschool tutoring given to whole groups rather than specific individuals. Kids in my neighborhood go into the testing game with loaded dice and the money to take second, third, fourth, and fifth chances at tests that cost. (Kids who qualify financially may get up to two fee waivers for the ACT while in high school, requiring the help of a school counselor. This covers basic testing costs, but no additional costs and no extra score reports.)

ACT costs

Parents where I live don’t hesitate to spend hundreds of dollars to increase ACT numbers. They also pay to deliver higher GPAs and SAT-specific content-learning. Parents where I work are often forced to spend that money on food and rent instead. As we emphasize numbers, numbers, numbers, we provide a natural advantage to those who can afford tutors — and one more barrier for those who cannot.

*The ACT maximum is 36.