PARCC Standardized Tests and Flying ?>

PARCC Standardized Tests and Flying

A reader posed this question about PARCC: “How well do you think flying and flight instruction would work if all was run by untrained 22 year-old and billionaire funded?”

Thanks for asking.  Flying is a skill with potential risk to life.  Bad instruction in the air is potentially as life altering as bad teaching in primary and secondary school.

Earning a pilot certificate – the analog of high school graduation – requires three things:  each has an analog in the public school system.

  • Specified number of hours of training and experience (hours and years in the classroom)
  • Demonstration of knowledge by standardized tests
  • Demonstration of skills to an examiner in a standardized format

All of three are uniform across the United States.  The training and certificate are for the most part recognized worldwide.

Eighteen year-olds can teach

Eighteen year-olds are regularly licensed to teach in the airplane and in the classroom.  This has been the case since the Second World War.

Examiners come in two varieties: Designated Examiners who report directly to the FAA and examiners who are associated with a school.  School examiners may be as young as eighteen, but it is uncommon.  Designated Examiners are more likely to be forty and more commonly retired airline pilots.  Age and seniority are not determinant.  Experience is.  Conduct of a flight test follows a rigorous checklist.  Examiners are periodically monitored on flight tests by representatives of the FAA.

The FAA offers a variety of standardized tests tailored to each level of pilot certificate.  Individual instruments are constructed for students by random selection of test items.  All tests require a score of 70% to pass.  Two vendors offer proctored test administration.

Why we are talking

The discussion that gave rise to the reader’s question was the proposal to make the PARCC test of Algebra I and tenth grade English a requirement for NJ high school graduation.

There’s no proposal on the table to eliminate the general requirement that a student attend twelve years of school without excessive truancy.  Sure, we may encounter prodigies who skip a grade or two, but they are not the topic of the controversy.

As far as I know, there is no proposal to eliminate teacher-created tests and teacher-determined grading standards.  A student still needs to pass the courses in his or her high school to graduate.

The analog in flying is the instructor standard for letting a student fly for the first time by himself.  There is no minimum number of hours required before the student is handed the keys to the airplane.  The standard is at one time both vague and specific.  The instructor must believe the student has the skills to safety pilot the airplane on the first solo flight and have the skills to deal with likely emergency situations.

A teacher has the option when constructing a curriculum to copy tests out of the textbook teacher guide.  A pessimist would say this is avoidance of work.  An optimist would say it is valuable way to normalize tests.

Then comes the question of the standardized knowledge tests.  In flying, standardized tests measure several dimensions of student knowledge beyond the most straightforward questions.

  • Test items that require multiple steps of mathematical calculation
  • Test items that require knowledge of U.S. geography
  • Test items that require knowledge of regulation and its language
  • Test items that require understanding nuances of English (the “trick questions”)

Flight students in Louisiana may not have encountered mountain flying.  The written tests ensure that they have at least a cursory understanding of the issues.  Students roll their eyes when this subject matter appears in class; they may never see a mountain.  Students in Alaska may not be challenged by the issues associated with high density altitude.  They may then accuse the instructor of “teaching to the test”.  Well yes, she is.  But smarter folks know that hot and high flying and mountains are important to all pilots, perhaps not this year or next, or for all pilots, but important nonetheless.

High schoolers may complain that they will never use trigonometry to determine the height of a flagpole.  The question is on the PARCC.  As a result, a responsible teacher will teach to the test and go through the example.

Flagpole measurement

Question number one is whether flagpole measurement is a legitimate topic for high school education.  That’s not a PARCC matter.  It’s a question of whether it belongs in a high school curriculum.  Does it belong in the Common Core?  We aren’t discussing that. I think it does properly.

A construction worker needs to understand that roof pitch is important and that it was calculated somehow, even if she doesn’t derive it using trigonometry.  An artist needs to understand how perspective in a painting is created.  That’s trigonometry, even if it doesn’t involve a calculator.

PARCC flagpole question

Let’s assume that flagpole measurement is a legitimate part of a high school education.  The next question is wither the PARCC test item is a valid measure of flagpole mastery.  The test item is the responsibility of the representatives of ten state-size education departments.

Delivery of the test

I know of four companies that deliver the PARCC tests:

  • Measurement Inc,
  • Pearson PLC
  • Questar Assessment Inc.
  • Educational Testing Service

The choice of vendor is made at the state level.  In the pilot world, a flight student has the choice of vendor.  The test content is the same, but the student can choose based on geography, price, and test environment.

In New Jersey, PARCC tests delivered by Measurement Inc. at $25.50 each.  That’s a small part of the cost.  Schools need to have a workstation for each student.  Taxpayers spend $19,000 per student per year.  Twenty five bucks to check progress is not too much.  A homebuyer spends $500 to make sure the roof doesn’t leak and that the furnace works before closing.  Same thing.

Who owns the testing companies?

If there are four competitors vying for New Jersey’s business, what does it matter who owns them?   Twenty-two year-old or billionaire.

Pearson PLC has annual sales of £5.9 billion.  Does that matter?  Not to me.  Does Pearson offer a better service for its bid price?  That’s what matters to me.  New York state though not and sent Pearson packing.

The argument about billionaires running the testing game is simply a non-issue to me.  What matters is who is responsible for the test items.  A deeper examination may show that the PARCC consortium is abrogating its responsibility by delegating test item formulation to ETS, then not supervising the results.

Who is responsible?

The PARCC consortium is a group of state educators, not 22 year olds and billionaires.  If PARCC is sponsoring these tests, then it is responsible.  To blame failure on others is a deflection.

Perhaps the NJ graduation test is not a valid measure of our true expectations of high school seniors.  Fine.  Let’s recalibrate the tests, not abandon them.

I’m in favor of the PARCC tests in New Jersey.  I suggest we test at the twelfth grade level.

Leave a Reply