2007-03-16 / Editorial/Opinion


Moving Towards A Test That Nobody Can Fail

Here is your first question: Rockaway is _________________. These are the possible answers. Pick one: (A) A peninsula. (B) Connected to Brooklyn by the Marine Park Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. (C) Surrounded on three sides by water. (D) Connected on the eastern end to Nassau County. (E) All of the above. Did you get the right answer? Of course you did. You had no choice. All of the answers are correct. Stupid test, you might say. Of course it is, but the city, fresh from "proving" that test scores can be raised simply by teaching how to take a test and by lowering the standard for passing, has come up with a new wrinkle in its testing program for hiring new city workers. If you want to insure that lots of people pass your test, ask questions that have more than one answer. Hundreds of prospective firefighters who took the latest city test have complained that nearly half of the questions on the test had more than one answer. In fact, the January 20 exam included 195 questions, 107 of which had only one correct answer. There were two correct answers for 87 of the questions, five questions with three correct answers and one question where, as with the question above, all of the answers were correct. The city has admitted to the new scheme. "The multiple answers are part of the test design," a spokesperson from the city's Department of Administrative Services told the New York Post. "All of these questions have wrong answers, and as with some aspects of a firefighter's job, there are a number of right ways to approach a situation." Critics of the new testing paradigm say that the test is designed to allow higher numbers of people from those groups that have traditionally done poorly on the test to pass. One firefighter suggested that the city no longer wants to use the hiring tests as a filter, but rather it wants everybody to pass and then allow an extended training program to "weed out the incompetents." We hope that this is not the beginning of a move to dumb down the tests to allow unqualified people into such critical jobs as teacher, police officer or firefighter. You can agree with the need for more diversity in the fire department without wishing unqualified minorities to filter into the job by taking a test that nobody can fail. It looks, however, that the dumbing down has already begun.

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