May 17, 2006

Test Flagging, Debunked

A Disability Law blog entry alerts us to Slate Magazine's "Medical Examiner" piece by Arthur Allen on "the flagging of the test scores of people who received accommodations" and tells us that Allen "all but says that the solution is to reinstitute flagging on the SAT."

Disability Law blog's Sam Bagenstos explains why this approach is wrong:

I think the basic problem lies elsewhere: The overuse of timed tests. . . .

[W]hy do we need to select college students and graduate students (and lawyers -- most of whom will not be trial lawyers) with them? I've spent most of my adult life in universities, and one thing I can confidently report is that college and graduate school (and even law school) emphatically allow the luxury of time. Why should my speed at answering questions matter at all, pedaogically speaking?

The real reason for timed tests, he says, is that they're easier to administer and grade.
Get rid of the timed exams, and the inequities Allen worries about "will go away."

More from Bagenstos:

People with learning disabilities are really the canary in the coal mine here: They may be especially affected by the way timed exams overemphasize speed over substantive knowledge and aptitude, but they highlight a problem of far more general application. The solution shouldn't be to make the time limits stricter. It should be to remove the time limits altogether (or make only a portion of the test timed), and to craft exams that test, in appropriate proportions, the skills that are really important to scholarly and professional success.

Posted on May 17, 2006