Current Events in Education

The Sound and The Fury, The Bite Fight, and the Demise Of Standardized Testing: Part I

I sat on the couch with popcorn and soda ready for the match. “Dad! Come on, Don King is on camera!” Wide-eyed, I watched the infamous boxing promoter smile and chat with his evening’s guest. It was 1997, I was 15 years old, and had never really been into boxing. My experience with the sport was confined to playing hours of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on Nintendo. Little Mac and I went toe-to-toe with Iron Mike on the screen and I was looking forward to watching him take on Evander Holyfield, the fighter who had beaten him less than a year before. “The Sound and the Fury,” as it was billed, was about to begin. At the time, I had no idea that this epic battle in the ring would be the harbinger to another epic battle nearly 20 years later. A battle that pitted two standardized testing companies — the ACT, and the College Board (facilitators of the SAT) — against one another as they decided the future trajectory of classes of anxious Seniors.
Because I was an amateur viewer of boxing, I had little context for what to expect. The crowd sat eagerly in their seats, ready for the bell to signal the start of round 1. The tension was thick, as both Tyson and Holyfield bore grimaces of focus and nearly a year of preparation. The match was promoted in the media for months beforehand, leading to a 2 million+ viewership worldwide. It was an international spectacle. Fast forward 20 years, and our international spectacle includes a similar scenario: Millions of students anxiously awaiting their answer folders as headlines questioning SAT security and calling out widespread ACT cheating pass through their racing minds. All baring grimaces of their own weeks and months of preparation, students have banked their futures on these tests and tension is equally thick in gymnasiums, libraries, and classrooms on each of six yearly Saturdays across the country.
Like a boxing match, ACT & the College Board are pitted against one another as they decided the future trajectory of anxious Seniors. Click To Tweet
As two rounds of Tyson/Holyfield passed by, I realized that had little understanding of how violent boxing really was. Although Little Mac and I spent rounds taking down Glass Joe, Bald Bull, and Soda Popinski, I was keenly unaware of the volume of violent encounters boxers experienced during their time in the ring. And, as the bell rang for the beginning of round 3 in the Tyson/Holyfield fight, I was about to get a extreme dose of this violence. Caught in a mid-ring grapple, Tyson’s head bent to the side of Holyfield’s where his jaw clamped down on the top of Holyfield’s right ear. Holyfield reared in pain. Iron Mike spit out the one-inch piece of bloody cartilage onto the ring floor, put up his guard, and was ready for his opponent’s counter. “The Sound And The Fury” was now officially “The Bite Fight.”
On the testing front, in May of this year the conflict between ACT and College Board officially reached “Bit Fight” status. In the midst of ballooning student anxiety, newsworthy scandals, and intense overhauls of each test, ACT’s CEO Marten Roorda penned a letter that took off a one-inch piece of the College Board’s ear. After the College Board released its official scoring concordance tables without consulting ACT, Roorda wrote:
“Now… the College Board has taken it upon itself not only to describe what its scores mean, but what ACT’s scores mean. That’s different from 10 years ago, and different from the standard you should expect from a standardized testing agency.”
Countering with its own series of jabs, College Board’s VP for research Jack Buckley responded:
“…[S]everal months ago we reached out to ACT to express our strong interest in conducting a new SAT-ACT concordance study to update the existing decade-old study. We look forward to working with ACT in a renewed spirit of cooperation.”
While both statements appear to be rather benign in nature, they speak to the greater issue at hand. Certainly there will be conflict between rivals in the same industry, but outward, calling-out of these rivalries in the public sphere with the futures of students on the line is something different entirely.
But, was the writing on the wall? Had this public conflict been years in the making? Stay tuned for Part II.
This piece originally appeared on Mike Dunn’s blog:

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