CASE Revealed, Case Closed

Teacher George Schmidt is being sued for $1.4 million by the Chicago Public Schools, which is mad that he published questions from the city’s high-stakes CASE exams. The test had already been given when Schmidt published the questions in the newspaper Substance, but Chicago wanted to reuse the CASE exam. Schmidt has also been suspended without pay.

Educational consultant and writer Gerald Bracey, who has been involved in testing for 25 years, says of the CASE test: “I have never, ever, seen such shoddy work.”

Here are a few examples from the CASE test, with commentary from Bracey. (Note: instructions tell students to choose only one answer to each question.)

What major landforms are found in most of Europe?

A. Plateaus. B. Plains. C. Hills. D. Mountains.

First, what constitutes “most of Europe?” Most countries? Most land area? Never mind. While “plains” might be a stretch (but not so much if one includes the Steppes), the other three answers are correct. Indeed, the question instructs the student to pick more than one answer by indicating “landforms” in the plural. The instructions, though, repeatedly insist that only one answer be chosen.

In the English test, question 10 asks, “What is the term for the final event in a tragedy?” The right answer is “climax.” (Like many questions, this one could be answered correctly just from looking at the question; one would not have to study the nature of tragedy in an English course.) Question 12, though, asks:

What is the climax of Romeo and Juliet?

A. The death of Tybalt. B. The marriage of Romeo and Juliet. C. The announcement of the wedding of Paris and Juliet. D. The death of Romeo.

Well, if the climax is “the final event,” there is no right answer to this question. When Romeo dies, Juliet is still alive. The final event is the death of Juliet.

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