Two summers ago I worked for Advanced Systems in Measurement and Evaluation in Dover, N.H. Advanced Systems, as we all referred to it, designs and scores standardized tests. The summer I worked there, the company had contracts with Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Wyoming; the content areas I graded were reading, social studies, writing, and Spanish.
When I accepted the job, I welcomed the chance to learn the intricacies of standardized testing. However, as the summer progressed, I came to realize that standardized testing was not in the least bit fair. The questions themselves were extremely biased and the way they were graded did not take into account different forms of cultural expression.
I remember in particular an incident involving an eighth grade social studies test. Students were given a short passage to read and then asked to write an essay response. This particular question focused on Manifest Destiny. In order to receive a 4-point score (which was the best on our scale of 0-4), the student had to write an essay in which she/he gave two positive interpretations of Manifest Destiny along with two negative interpretations. Without those components, a student essay could not receive a four, no matter how well the essay was constructed .
I read many insightful answers that critiqued Manifest Destiny as an outlook that led to the dislocation and oppression of native peoples and that did nothing to preserve cultural diversity. The responses clearly fulfilled the negative interpretation requirement. But if a student did not address the positive interpretation requirement, she/he could not (by the definition of the scoring rubric) receive a perfect score.
I decided to bring this to the attention of Paul, the Quality Assurance Control person at my table. When I told him my concern, he responded, "Well, if the response doesn't meet the requirements of the scoring rubric, it cannot receive the perfect score."