That Ragged Old Item

Each year they arrive ready to change the game
Developers and psychometricians with freshly minted degrees
As eager to disrupt as we were eager to please.

So, I wasn’t surprised when the bold one exclaimed with disdain,
I remember that sandwich cut into six slices!
Students deserve better items, no wonder we’re in crisis!

I said, naw, she’ll do fine for our little test.
They smirked as young folk do when they’re sure they know best,
OK, boomer. Whatever. It just isn’t cool.
We took the same item when we were in school.

I knew this was the first time they’d worked on a test
Patience was required, I’d give it my best.
I said have a seat, one by one they sat down
And we all stared in silence, there wasn’t a sound.

Then softly I began…

She and I are both old
But let me enlighten
‘Round here we’re kinda proud of that ragged old item.

You long for an item to which kids will relate.
What’s more relatable than something they ate?
Wherever they call home, they’ve eaten and shared
Some type of big sandwich carefully prepared.

Choose any math standard, she’ll answer the call.
Measures, fractions, proportions, she’s great for them all.
Combinations of toppings, cost to feed the whole team,
There’s not a problem situation that she hasn’t seen.

Multiple-choice, short-answer, or constructed-response,
One time we even used her as a writing prompt.

Across this great land, she goes by many names:
Sub, hoagie, or grinder,
An Italian in Maine.

On Philly’s test, a cheesesteak.
That didn’t take a Whiz,
A Rachel or Reuben in Pittsburgh
Piled as high as she could take.

She was a po’ boy down in New Orleans
When the reformers came a callin’.

Through NYCs canyon raced our hero
When that pineapple was too slow.

We garnished her with avocado
One summer night in Colorado
Over a pint at the Golden Bee.

And she was Nashville Hot Chicken
With a mason jar of sweet tea
On new tests in Tennessee.

From sea to shining sea and back
Wheat, white, or multi-grain
Each time we’ve put her on the test
She’s come through for us again.

I have to admit though, she’s seen tough days
that shook her to the core.
Like those meetings at the height of the Atkins craze
In the summer of ’04

Protein coursing through their veins, each item they’d eviscerate
They didn’t want to see a single carb on the test or on their plate.
At lunch we watched in horror as teachers tossed their bread
We filled twelve large baskets with the loaves that they shed.

And in ’09, it was the bias committee
that caused quite a tiff,
Demanding we test our pastrami
for vegetarian DIF.

She was staggered at the Alamo, almost falling with Harcourt.
Hobbled, she wobbled, but still she stood tall
Like Crockett exiting Dick’s Last Resort.

For PARCC, we thought it was too much to ask
But we converted her into a performance task.

We adapted her for SMARTER
She’s been technology-enhanced
But still you’ll recognize her
With barely a second glance.

We trimmed fat so she’d fit in on Access.
Added red hots for use on the Praxis.
And when it seemed she was out of options, all variations had been tried
They invented the 6 ft party sub. Her fortunes were revived.

For decades now we’ve called on her
She’s common, but she’s core.
And no matter how you slice her
She’s reliable to score.

But now in state testing, which she has served so well
Each test administration has become a living hell.
Items scrubbed and scrutinized in the hope they won’t offend
As if that’s the main reason we’re mired in this trend.

With new and shiny items they want to fill the bank
But there’s plenty of testing left in her tank.

As long as people share food and don’t understand fractions
Our old sandwich item will be ready for action.
There’s nary a culture this portable feast doesn’t feed.
Why start from scratch if there isn’t a need.

She may become plant-based, without any gluten.
But if there’s a filling and wrapper, we’ll find a solution.
She will never grow stale, to her we’ll always show loyalty
And we’re ever so glad item writers don’t get royalties.

So, improve large-scale testing. It’s come up awfully short.
Change the models, the format, please improve the reports.
But to keep what still works, don’t ever be frightened.
‘Round here we’re kinda proud of that ragged old item

Image by Ken Rogers from Pixabay

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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