On April 7, The Wichita Eagle published the following letter written by 17-year-old Jenny Potochnik about the new Work Keys assessment test. Taking the Work Keys assessments is required by the Wichita, Kansas school district.
I am writing in reference to "Finding 'Subversion' in School-to-Work," (March 21 Op-Ed Page) in which editorial writer Denny Clements accused my mother, Kim Potochnik, as well as Wichita school board members Janet Danitschek and Marty Marshall, of some pretty ridiculous things.
The main focus of Mr. Clement's attack was the Work Keys assessment, one of the new graduation requirements. He thinks this test is very valuable. As a junior at Heights High School, I took the Work Keys test recently. It costs the school district $39 per student for this test and takes 10 hours of valuable classroom time. Here are some examples of test questions as well as my editorial comments.
- An audiotape of a phone conversation was played for us, and we were to take down the message in detail. Taking phone messages. Now that's a good thing to test high school students on. Everyone I talked to thought it was stupid.
- A videotape was played showing us how to transfer a phone call. We were instructed to press flash, the extension number, then flash again. Our multiple-choice question was: After pressing flash and the extension number, what button do you press? At that point, I was beginning to wonder exactly why I had gotten out of bed. I could have taken this assessment in my sleep.
- Then came the floor mopping question. We were instructed by video on how to mop a floor. Then we were given a scenario in which the person mopping did something wrong. We were supposed to say what went wrong. No, I am not kidding.
The math portion of the test was 32 questions of simple arithmetic with a few questions about area and volume. No algebra required. The reading assessment was also very simple. It consisted mainly of short memos that we were given to read with very short, basic questions to answer.
The only part of the Work Keys that I was uncertain of was the technology assessment. We were given diagrams of the inside of a computer and asked questions such as: If floppy disk drive A doesn't work, where should you check first? In another question we were given a diagram of a golf course and its sprinkler system. We were asked about what valves to shut off on what greens to maximize water pressure and so on. There were also questions about refrigerator repair, the installation of electrical outlets, and the interworkings of a vacuum cleaner. I am a high school student, not an appliance repairman or electrician.
A recent article in the Heights newspaper said that we are now spending 19.1 days out of 186 school days taking some kind of assessments. That is over 10 percent of the school year. Can anyone say "overkill"?
Mr. Clements, are you really so certain that what is being done to reform our schools will result in greater student learning? Ask my teachers. They are the experts, and they will tell you no.