Research And Reports

October 12, 1981 2 min read

Two researchers from New Jersey have developed a reading-comprehension test that, they believe, may overcome the problem of “cultural bias.”

Edward B. Fry, director of the Reading Center at Rutgers University, and Marianne Reynolds, a former Rutgers graduate student who is now a reading instructor at Mercer County Community College, characterize their test as more “passage dependent” than the standardized tests now commonly used. That means, Mr. Fry explained, that students cannot answer the questions without reading the text; on conventional tests, he said, students from privileged families often can answer questions without reading the passages. Thus, he said, conventional tests measure not reading comprehen sion but students’ cultural backgrounds, “and that’s basically unfair.”

The new examination, intended for use by high-school students, is based on a passage about a fictional building contractor in Alaska--not a subject even the most widely read student is likely to know much about.

“It’s not cheating at all, but it would tend to make inner cities look better because it measures what kids have really learned to do, not their general background,” Mr. Fry said.

The test is not yet available for use by school systems. Mr. Fry said he hopes to refine it and submit it to a publisher within a year. But, he added, he would welcome inquiries from any large school system interested in helping him develop norms for the exam.

In these times of shrinking education budgets, today’s administrator has to know how to act before state and national legislative bodies.

“You have an unadulterated opportunity to coax the money and power brokers to see your point of view,” John H. Holcomb, superintendent of schools in Lamar, Colo., writes in The American School Board Journal.

In addition to common-sense tips (“research the issue,” “discover where support and opposition lie,” and “know the legislative process”) Mr. Holcomb offers occasional snippets of philosophy--for example: “Testifying can be a lot like selling a used car: The key to success lies not so much in focusing on the merchandise as in convincing the customer that your product is essential to his well-being.” And he passes along tips that none but the most seasoned witness would think of:

“It’s usually best not to bring charts and graphs to hold up: The panel might sit 30 feet away from you and be unable to see much.”

“Be serious but not grim. A smile certainly is in good taste, but don’t open like a master of ceremonies. Avoid informal speaking: the ‘hey, man’ or ‘ya know’ language is declasse.”

“Don’t read to them. Don’t read to them. Don’t read to them!”

And to end the piece, Mr. Holcomb cautions that the old days of influence-buying may be over. “This is a new era,” he writes. “Investigations of certain politicians have found them entangled in activities that were illegal or at least highly questionable...No longer will a night on the town--at the lobbyist’s expense--sway legislators to one position....

“Instead of freebies, take advantage of social occasions at which you can mix with politicians and develop personal ties--but don’t feel you lose anything by picking up the tab.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 1981 edition of Education Week as Research And Reports