Utah colleges and universities are already registering students for next fall, as well as for summer terms. Most of the colleges in Utah use the results of exams such as the American College Test (ACT) to assist students when they register. Advisers also pay careful attention to the past academic record of students. Most of the new students at Snow College are accompanied by parents as they register. And while some parents are helpful, others are not.
A student new to Snow College was with her mother as she registered. An adviser was trying to make certain that the new student was properly prepared for the classes she wanted to take and the discussion centered around test scores and high school grades. For awhile this three-way conversation had only two speakers, the student and the parent. The college adviser was listening to different translations of the test scores.Student (to adviser): "I think I could have done a little better on the math section of the test if I had taken more math in high school."
Parent (to student and adviser): "These tests don't mean a thing."
Student (to adviser): "Do you think I can handle the Math 101 course with my scores and high school grades? I didn't take as much math in high school as I should have."
Parent (to adviser - I think): "She can do anything she puts her mind to. These scores don't mean anything because the tests aren't fair. She is just lazy in math."
Student (to adviser): "I think I did a little better than I expected on the reading section of the test."
Parent (to adviser): "She is a much better reader than the test indicates. She reads all the time. She reads too much. She reads when she should be doing other things."
Student (to adviser): "I think maybe the reading score is higher than my math score because I enjoy reading and avoided math a bit. I could have taken another math course my senior year."
Parent (to adviser): "These tests just worry kids. The scores don't mean a thing. All they do is make kids feel like failures when they get low scores."
Student (to adviser): "Will I be able to handle Math 101?"
Adviser (thought but not spoken): "Yes, If you move away from home." (Spoken): "This test is just a sample of what you have studied these past few years. Looking at the scores along with the good grades you got in the math classes you took, you should be able to handle the math course if you take a reasonable load and are willing to work hard."
Parent (to student - I think): See, I told you those scores didn't mean anything. They just give kids bad feelings about themselves."
Those who argue that tests give students inaccurate or damaging information about themselves may consider what this student learned. She learned that she was lazy, read too much and that the results of tests worried her, but she didn't learn this information from the test. (She'd probably learn these same things in her home without taking the test.)
Giving this particular parent a copy of the Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education wouldn't do much good, even though most parents and educators could benefit from reading it. The code, which describes the fair use of tests, tries to answer the objections of this parent and others.
The code is evidence that testing agencies and professional associations are concerned that school tests be fair. It also is a good measure for parents wanting to evaluate testing practices in the schools. The code was jointly prepared by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education. Most schools and colleges subscribe to the Code of Fair Practices, but we can all use reminders as we use student information discovered on tests. The code is available free from the National Council on Measurement in Education, 1230 17th Street, NW Washington, DC 20036.
Having a code of fair practices certainly won't eliminate all the misunderstanding about the use of tests and won't make advising new college students any easier, but it can elevate the discussion of test uses. If parents and educators understand what the professionals consider fair and not fair, then they will be more careful using tests.