Are standardized tests really so terrible? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 94 Old 03-21-2004, 09:42 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Everyone seems to really hate the idea of giving school kids standardized tests in order to see if they're really learning anything. I've complained about these tests myself--even in this very forum.

But now I wonder, are they really so terrible? I get the objection about "teaching to the test." I don't like the idea of a standardized test hanging over a classroom like a spectre, dictating everything that is taught.

But OTOH, at the risk of sounding like Dubya, is it too much to ask that schools be held accountable? Is it really so outrageous to expect that kids who're about to graduate from high school know the dates of the civil war? The pythagorem theorem? Have some familiarity with great works of literature? Be able to write an organized essay? Read?

And, if standardized tests really are the work of the devil, then how the heck do we find out if schools are educating our children?
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#2 of 94 Old 03-21-2004, 09:56 PM
 
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I've worked in educational publishing for three years. I've worked with these tests. I've written these tests. They are as bad as everyone says and worse. The language used in the tests is racist, classist, and sexist. Many of the questions are so poorly written that the teachers (and writers, like myself) that take the tests are unable to answer all of the questions. (How the test questions are written is prescribed by the state.) The tests do not measure how well a student understands concepts or can perform a certain skill. These are, for the most part, tests on taking a test. The ONLY way kids pass these tests is if they are taught the material straight from the test itself.

There are other ways of measuring what schools are failing and which ones are succeeding. Graduation rates, interviews with students, parents, and teachers, random review of student's schoolwork and the teacher's ciriculum-- there are other ways.

These tests are being used to deny public funds to the schools that need them the most. The cost of developing, administering, and grading these tests is absurd.

In most states, you can refuse for your child to take these tests. That is what we will be doing.
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#3 of 94 Old 03-21-2004, 10:29 PM
 
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I dont think that there is anything wrong in the tests themselves. In fact, they can be fun for children and can be positive experiences (If handled well by schools). But what is wrong is how the results are used. If they are not used to inform practice and lead to better teachign and learning, but just to 'test' teachers, they are damaging. And if they are used to make comparisons that are unfair and lead to 'sink schools', they are even more damaging.

It is the concept of competition between schools by pitting them against one another and against arbitary standards that they are expected to achieve that is dangerous and has a negative impact on education.

The tests themselves are not inherrently bad. Children can learn to take tests and to enjoy them, if they are used as an assessment tool and if adults are honest about them, and use the results to inform parents and children of standards and how to improve. I have seen classes of children get a real buzz from doing standardised tests, because tehy had been prepared properly and knew that they would learn something from the experience.

The idea of 'teaching to the test' is thrown around a lot these days. If it is a good test, it is not possible to 'teach to it'. It is the curriculum that you need to cover in order that the children can succeed in the tests. I think that it is far more wrong not to prepare children for tests and give them practice in techniques for them.

I know this as a fact. A couple of years ago I interviewed children for some research. The ones who's teachers didnt prepare them for tests but just told them 'to do their best' were seriuosly damaged by the experience. Those who had been prepared and knew what was being measured and how to take a test, had enjoyed the experience and talked positively about it.

So, when you hear teachers accused of 'teaching to the test' you need to stop to ask what exactly that means. If it is taking a little time out to help children to learn how to take tests, then that is a good thing, as opposed to just letting them turn up for the tests and 'do their best'.

Life for our children will almost inevitably involve tests. We can avoid it for them to a certain extent, but I honestly believe that chlidren who are comfortable taking tests are in a better position than those who have not had the experience.

But any test has to be a part of a feedback loop that includes infomration about what you can do adn how to improve further.

So, I just dont like the knee-jerk reaction that all tests are necessarily a bad thing. Teachers test all the time, the question is whether the children are aware of it. My guess is that most of the time they are, and it is tests that are given with no feedback that are damaging.
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#4 of 94 Old 03-21-2004, 10:51 PM
 
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Daylily, good question. And it's not just relevant to schooled kids, as most registered homeschoolers have to put up with state-mandated standardized tests too.

You wrote: "at the risk of sounding like Dubya, is it too much to ask that schools be held accountable?"

No! They absolutely should be. The problem is that standardized tests results hold them accountable for the wrong things.

"Is it really so outrageous to expect that kids who're about to graduate from high school know the dates of the civil war? The pythagorem theorem? Have some familiarity with great works of literature? Be able to write an organized essay? Read?"

Well... there are far more effective ways to assess a person's reading and writing abilities than standardized testing. And as for the rest, these things may or may not be relevant to an individual student's life. (Personally, I'm not interested in wasting my time reading what others think is important for me to read, I'll decide that for myself, thank you very much!) But that's really beside the issue of standardized tests. Do you really think that what a student gets out of The Grapes of Wrath is going to be reflected on a standardized test? Not likely. And why is it important to know the dates of the civil war anyway? (Can't I just look that up if I ever REALLY need the information?) But even if it is important, how do you know the test if going to ask about that? Maybe it's going to ask about the dates of some other war instead. The arbitrariness of which questions are chosen implies that a student should know everything. But does a student really need to know the dates of every war that has ever taken place? Is that really what education should be about? No. But it's what standardized testing makes it about.

"And, if standardized tests really are the work of the devil, then how the heck do we find out if schools are educating our children?"

Frankly, I don't think there's any way except by more personalized attention. Can your child read and write well? Is your child interested in learning about the world? Does your child know how to seek out information? Does your child have goals? Then your child is probably being educated well. Personally, that's what I need to know about my children, and I can find that out from just observing them and interacting with them. I do not need to know whether they have memorized this or that mathematical equation. And by focusing on that -- the trivia that standardized tests are based on -- I think that educators, and maybe even parents forget to look at the other stuff that is what is truly relevant as far as assessing whether someone has been well educated or just schooled.

Here a few links to some good articles about standardized testing:

NEWS FROM THE TEST RESISTANCE TRAIL

Side Effects of Standardized Testing

Standardized Schools

On Standardized Testing
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#5 of 94 Old 03-21-2004, 10:52 PM
 
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Schools have been able to educate children without the use of standardized tests (in thei current form) for hundreds of years, and somehow, kids learned to read and write without them.

Here are just a few of the problems:
1. Schools are judged by the results. Scores are published in the newspaper. High scoring schools are most often a reflection of parent involvement, socio-economic status, parents' ability to provide tutors and outside help to their students, and community correlation with education and success.

2. Students never receive feedback on their performance, can never improve on what they did poorly on, and frankly, don't care about the tests. They are not accurate reflections of the job the school is doing when the student understands that nothing bad will happen should they just fill in letter C for all the answers.

3. Schools are not the only people accountable for a child's education. Parents and the home environment are THE BIGGEST factors in a child's school success. A child can be taught to read at school, but if they go home and are never read to, never provided with books, their parents don't speak the language they're being taught to read in, etc., they are more likely to score poorly on the tests.

Just recently I taught a lesson to my high school class about poverty. They were asked to calculate whether a family of three with one working adult made above or below the poverty line if the working person made minimum wage. I told them what the poverty line was, told them what minimum wage was, and let them use calculators if they wanted to. At least HALF of my 10th graders were unable to figure this out. Most of them didn't know how many weeks were in a month (they guessed 7-8), how many weeks were in a year, and had to count to figure out how many months there were in a year. Do I blame the schools for not teaching this info? Absolutely not. I have no doubt that their third grade teacher taught it to them. But why didn't they retain it? Because they never had to use it. No one reinforced it at home. I was astounded.

Anyway, I could write a novel about the disservice that is being done to American students, but these are just a few thoughts.
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#6 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 12:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This is turning into an interesting discussion.

Mothra, you said,
Quote:
I've written these tests. They are as bad as everyone says and worse. The language used in the tests is racist, classist, and sexist.
Do you mind sharing a general example of sexist/racist language in a test question? I'm having a hard time imagining how a test question could be framed in a sexist or racist way.

Britishmum, you said,
Quote:
If it is a good test, it is not possible to 'teach to it'. It is the curriculum that you need to cover in order that the children can succeed in the tests. I think that it is far more wrong not to prepare children for tests and give them practice in techniques for them.
That's good to hear, although I guess the operative phrase is, "if it's a good test." I agree that children need to know how to take tests.

Blueviolet, we disagree on this point:

Quote:
I do not need to know whether they have memorized this or that mathematical equation. And by focusing on that -- the trivia that standardized tests are based on I think that educators, and maybe even parents forget to look at the other stuff that is what is truly relevant
I don't think that the knowlege base that children need to pass a standardized test can be fairly written off as "trivia." I know that memorization seems hopelessly dull and old-fashioned, but learning certain seemingly arbitrary facts gives children the tools they need to put their lives in perspective and to function in the adult world. To give one example, I think it's important for American children to know the dates of the Revolutionary war and the Civil war--these dates are obviously less important to children growing up in the Netherlands or India--but much of what we come in contact with requires a historical frame of reference. Yes, you can always look it up--most people are fudgy on the exact dates--but we have kids in this country who confuse the dates of the Civil War with that of the Vietnam War. That is not good.

sharonal,

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Just recently I taught a lesson to my high school class about poverty. They were asked to calculate whether a family of three with one working adult made above or below the poverty line if the working person made minimum wage. I told them what the poverty line was, told them what minimum wage was, and let them use calculators if they wanted to. At least HALF of my 10th graders were unable to figure this out. Most of them didn't know how many weeks were in a month (they guessed 7-8), how many weeks were in a year, and had to count to figure out how many months there were in a year. Do I blame the schools for not teaching this info? Absolutely not.
I absolutely would blame the schools in this situation. I know--some parents are not supportive of education and are raising kids who just couldn't care less--but even so, when high schoolers don't know how many weeks are in a month, that raises serious concerns about their past education, IMO. I bet if most of these kids' parents knew this, they'd be horrified and quickly remedy the problem. But I bet many of these kids sailed through elementary school and middle school with decent report cards and so their parents never questioned the type of education they were getting.

My ds is in sixth grade and is taking US history this year. A few days ago I guizzed him a bit about early US history. He could not name the second president of the United States. He didn't know who was president during the war of 1812 and had only the barest understanding of that war and why it was fought. He had the most cursary understanding of the Continental Congress, and could not correctly name the people who wrote the Constitution. And yet he's been getting A's in history. What the heck has he been learning all this time? Well, he knows that his teacher's favorite TV show is "West Wing." He had a project in which he and a group had to create a society loosly based on the "Survivor" TV show--although what that has to do with US History I can not say.

This was a HUGE wake up call for me. And believe me, ds is going to know more about US history, even though I'll have to teach it to him myself. There must be a way to make sure that children are aquiring knowlege during their school years.

PS: Don't think I'm attacking all schools or teachers with my example about ds's history class. He's had the privilege of being taught by many excellent teachers, and while he's hearing about the latest episode of "West Wing" in history, he's reading Shakespeare and writing thesis papers in English.
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#7 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 02:38 PM
 
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Is it really so outrageous to expect that kids who're about to graduate from high school know the dates of the civil war?
I don't know the dates of the civil war. I also don't know what a "hydrogen molecule" is, how to calculate the area of a cone, or the names of the characters in Shakespeare plays. I can't see how my lack of knowledge is hurting me. It makes me look like an idiot when I play Trivial Pursuit, yes, but a bad citizen? No.

I don't know these things because I have not yet decided it's important for me to know them. If I ever want to know, there are things I can do - take a class at the university, look on the Internet, look through dh's Shakespeare books, go to the library or browse the used bookstore for old textbooks. We have this idea that if a kid doesn't learn something by a certain grade, she'll never learn and then she'll never go to college or get a job. I learned long division in 11th grade! I taught myself! Everyone else in my class learned it in 5th grade.

What about the schools that don't use standards-based education? Or those that don't give letter grades? Talk to some of those students. See if they're happy. Ask them their plans for the future. They aren't all a bunch of failures who are going to work at McDonald's just because "the government" doesn't know what they're up to.

My dh is a music teacher and the public schools are giving standaradized tests in music and art. I think that takes away something meaningful. The students have to make a work of art and have it judged by the testing committee. The committee specifies that it must be "meaningful." How are they going to test for that?

I have thought the solution would be to send dd to ps, and keep her out on test days. Now I know it wouldn't work, because she would still have to sit in class for all the useless learning that comes before the test. It's true that if it's a good test you don't have to teach to it, but these are not good tests. A lot of changes have been made in the way kids are taught, and when teachers and school districts are asked why, they say it's because of the test.

Why doesn't the test include questions that are deep and meaningful for every student? How come the test questions are never anything like "Are you happy in your school?" "What would you like to change about your school?" "Is your school helping you meet your future goals?" "If you have decided not to go to college, or not to finish high school, is your school supportive of your decision?"

Individualized testing is the way to go, IMO. Or why not make "the government" do all the work? Why not have "them" come to the schools and interview all the students, if they are so interested?

"Guerilla Learning" has a good chapter on standardized tests.
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#8 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 03:48 PM - Thread Starter
 
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It makes me look like an idiot when I play Trivial Pursuit, yes, but a bad citizen? No.
Is it the goal of public schools to educate children or to produce good citizens? I really hope it's the former.

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Why doesn't the test include questions that are deep and meaningful for every student? How come the test questions are never anything like "Are you happy in your school?" "What would you like to change about your school?" "Is your school helping you meet your future goals?" "If you have decided not to go to college, or not to finish high school, is your school supportive of your decision?"
Because these questions do not in any way address whether a child is competant in basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmatic.
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#9 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 04:13 PM
 
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Is it the goal of public schools to educate children or to produce good citizens? I really hope it's the former.
There are some who claim that it's impossible to be a good citizen without knowing the basics of American history.

I think schools do try to produce good citizens, too. Why else do they teach ethics, values, and the importance of social order? Of course, "good citizen" is defined by someone other than the student, just like "smart" and "real education."

I like the idea of a portfolio that includes all the child's assignments. Don't some schools do this? Waldorf schools, maybe? I think that's a good way to show exactly what the child has learned. It's unfortunate that one can't know how well a child can read and write without a test. If you ask a child what his favorite books are, wouldn't that tell you something about how well he can read? Do the tests request a writing sample? I thought they just covered grammar and didn't actually have the students write anything.

I am one of those people who "doesn't test well." I don't do well on multiple choice tests, yet I get perfect scores on essay tests. What does this mean? And could there be many other students like this? Are the students given the opportunity to take the test in the format that they like best?

It's true that life after school often includes tests, sometimes multiple choice tests. But these are voluntary. Even the SATs are voluntary. And what about all the doctors and lawyers and police officers for whom high scores on multiple choice tests are job requirements? They got there without the testing schoolchildren have today.
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#10 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 05:05 PM
 
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Originally posted by daylily

sharonal,

I absolutely would blame the schools in this situation. I know--some parents are not supportive of education and are raising kids who just couldn't care less--but even so, when high schoolers don't know how many weeks are in a month, that raises serious concerns about their past education, IMO. I bet if most of these kids' parents knew this, they'd be horrified and quickly remedy the problem. But I bet many of these kids sailed through elementary school and middle school with decent report cards and so their parents never questioned the type of education they were getting.

.
Again, I disagree. People learn best what is interesting and useful to them. Most middle and high school students do not have a desire to learn the info you listed, like about the Continental Congress. Most students DO, however, have an interest in a teacher's personal life. It's innate in humans. Are there bad teachers out there? Yes, just like there are bad parents. But I do not necessarily jump to blame a school when a child has not retained what seems like cursory information.

Here's another example. In my district, every tenth grader must take and pass the same final exam to pass government. It is a standardized test. It counts for 25% of the student's semester grade. (Their 1st quarter grade counts for 37-1/2%, and their 2nd quarter grade for 37-1/2%.) Students must be able to recall facts from the beginning of the semester to do well on the test. Because I, as a teacher, have no input or ability to adjust the test based on what we learned in class, I am a slave to the curriculum, if I want my students to walk into the test being able to at least recognize each of the topics.

Recently we studied the Federal Reserve system. The concept of the money supply, reserve requirements, and interest rates is very abstract, one that students often have a hard time with. Left to my own devices, I would slow down significantly and spend more time on this because it takes them a while to get it. However, I don't have that luxury. I have a list as long as my arm of subjects that still need to be taught before the final exam. Teachers should be teaching for content mastery. Teachers should have the luxury of teaching for content mastery. We do not. By requiring me to get through a giant curriculum while simultaneously preparing them to take two more standardized tests before the end of the year, no one is served. Teachers CAN say they taught the information. But it is not fair to expect every student to get it on the first or second try. And given our time constraints, that is what has to happen.

If, however, I was allowed to authentically assess each student based on their learning style, and on what we've discussed in class, it would be a different story.

There is more than one way to demonstrate mastery of a skill or topic. Standardized testing has always been recognized as one of the least effective ways.
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#11 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 06:24 PM
 
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There is more than one way to demonstrate mastery of a skill or topic. Standardized testing has always been recognized as one of the least effective ways.
Yep! And educators know it. They know that it would be more meaningful for the students if instead of filling in little bubbles they could write an essay, perform a play about the topic, or something else of their choice. But it's all about time and money. The tests are convenient; having people come to the school to listen to each individual child is not.

I think the question should not be "When was the civil war" but rather "What about the civil war sticks with you the most, and why? How does it affect you as an individual?" and any other questions that don't rely on a recall of dates and names.

Has anyone seen that Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin is taking a test and one of the questions asks for the date of some historical event, and Calvin writes in the correct date and then writes "Congratulations! I have memorized this fact long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever.":LOL
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#12 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 07:18 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I see what you are saying, Sharonal, about how the prospect of a standardized test hanging over you limits what you can do in the classroom.

And I didn't start this thread because I have a secret pro-test agenda.

What I really care about is whether or not schools are educating children. When you read about fourth graders who can't read, or high schoolers who need a calculator to do simple multiplication--it's alarming. What will happen to our country in the future if our citizenry is so ignorant?

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Most middle and high school students do not have a desire to learn the info you listed, like about the Continental Congress.
So does this mean we shouldn't try to teach it to them? What should we teach them?
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#13 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 07:32 PM
 
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No, we should absolutely teach the info to them. Schools just shouldn't be held up as "failing" or "substandard" when a high percentage of the kids don't do well. Frankly, when you've got other things going on in your life (which, statistically speaking, kids from very low socio-economic groups do), you just don't care that much about the dates of X or the structure of Congress. And if the teacher goes over the info two or three times, that's not really enough for everyone to "get it".

When I hear about kids in fourth grade that can't read, I think two things:
1. That is so sad. That kid must feel terrible.
2. What is wrong with the parents that they don't get their child the help they obviously need. If my child were 10 and not reading, I would help them at home or get them outside help.

I know some parents also face significant obstacles: language barriers, working three jobs, etc., and it's not always a lack of care, but there IS help out there for kids that need it. There is no way that a kid got to the fourth grade without a teacher at least trying to help them read.

I think the ignorance of our citizenry is astonishing. Most Americans can't explain the basic functioning of gov't. However, I don't think it's a school problem. I think it's a parent problem, a kid problem, and a society problem. No amount of standardized testing will improve student learning.
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#14 of 94 Old 03-22-2004, 07:33 PM
 
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What I really care about is whether or not schools are educating children.
Of course we want children to be educated. But how do you define "educating"? Isn't that best defined by the individual who is being educated?

If a child decides for himself that he is educated enough, and then later finds out there are things he would like to know more about but did not learn, can't he just learn about those things on his own time? Why is it certain things must take place by a certain time? When I was in grade school, all the kids were taught multiplication in 4th grade. Now I hear it's taught in 1st grade. Yet people my age still managed to finish high school and college, and find meaningful work. It looks like it didn't hurt them to learn this one skill a few years later than kids learn it now. You don't have to be "in school" to learn about something, although if you aren't getting the information you want from researching the topic yourself, you can always take a non-credit class at a community college.

I also don't understand how 4th graders can still be illiterate. Why not ask them? How was reading brought up in their household? Do their parents regularly read for pleasure, or do they just watch TV and expect the kids to read? Do the parents read story after story at bedtime? (4th grade is not too old for bedtime stories! I got them in 7th grade. Sometimes I would also take turns reading the story aloud to my mom and brother at bedtime.) If the child did not know how to read before starting school, how was it taught in school? Was it a custom-made program desgined to suit them, or were they expected to learn the exact same way as everyone else? If they needed extra help, was it available? What was used for reading material - things that interested the child, or random lists of words? And finally, can a multiple-choice test adequately "measure" reading? Wouldn't a more accurate result be obtained from simply asking the child to read aloud from an interesting book at his age level?

I have always believed that we should not attempt to measure children's knowledge, but instead should simply observe it.
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#15 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 01:10 AM
 
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If I am correct, tests are racist/classist/sexist but not in a blunt way. I will use a very embarrasing and somewhat racist in its own way example that portrayed this very clearly... Remember the old tv show "Diff'rent Strokes"? Well, they had an episode that addresed this issue (no, not the one with Mr. T..l.ol) Seriously...Anyway, Arnold and his brother had to take an entrance exam to a school and they failed . They insisted it was easy and they did good. The "teacher" said they knew no basic math or something and said a question like (making it my own, I forget exact question) "If you have a a 2 bedroom house, how many people can live comfortably" and Arnold said 8, not the correct and supposed obvious answer. When explained, Arnold said something like 'In my old neighborhood, the Smiths did this . 2 in the 1st bedroom, 3 in the 2nd, 2 in the living room and one in the bathtub". They got in.

I can't believe my warped tv addicted childhood was just used as an example...but you see how classism and racism can be used inadvertantly in stanardized test? The questioned are geared towards middle and upper class white kids-possibly males. What is normal to them is not to everyone else....Poor, often inner city kids may respond to many questions differently than the above mentioned....

And this is one example...
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#16 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 01:24 AM
 
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In one class we were given an "IQ test for black people." I don't remember any of the questions, but I got all of them wrong. There were no blacks in the class, but the only person to get a passing score on the test was someone who had grown up in "the ghetto."
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#17 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 11:56 AM
 
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bebesho2-- Your example is right on.

This is a little difficult to explain. Test questions have what are called "distractors". Distractors can be intended or unintentional. For example, a test question about a boy named John that plays golf and buys expensive golf shoes would probably not give pause to a middle-class white boy who is familiar with golf and has enough money to buy golf shoes. Said white boy would be able to focus on the actual question at hand because he is not thinking about how weird it would be to play golf or have enough money to buy golf shoes. But to, say, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who lives in the inner city and has never seen a golf course, these things could be distractors.

Most of the questions on the test are framed in this way. They are about boys doing stereotypical boy things and girls doing stereotypical girl things. The kids in the stories and word problems have names like Melissa and Charles and have computers in their homes, buy expensive things, and have parents that are available to them at all times. Not many questions about Tameka living with her single mother in the housing projects. Why? Because these things are considered "distractors". This is most prominent in the math/reading sections of the tests where word problems and reading passages are used.

Also, Christianinty is the norm in all of the tests. Always. One test I worked on went even further. Discussion of other religions or even mention of religious figures from other religions was not allowed. A reading passage about Martin Luther was okay, but not one about Mohammed or Native American spirituality.

I haven't worked with many of the science and social studies tests, so I can't speak much about those. However, I know that what most kids fail is the math and reading portions and I DO know about those. A lot of times the answer choices are vague to the point of being almost indistinguishable from each other. Grading of the essay/writing portions is really difficult for the grader and there is not much consistency in some cases. (I think that the essays should be graded by the teacher of the student that wrote it, but the government disagrees with me.)

My kids are freaking out so I have to go, but I'll check back in later. Let me know if my examples don't make sense.
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#18 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 12:44 PM
 
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[...] Grading of the essay/writing portions is really difficult for the grader and there is not much consistency in some cases. [...]
I've been reading this thread with interest and don't really want to jump into the debate but... I do have a minor hijack/question.

Has the way the essay/writing portions are graded changed recently?

Because I spent a summer on a temp job grading the writing portion of a standardized reading test for 4th graders (I think it was New Jersey's test but I can't remember for sure). This was about 10 or 12 years ago. At the time, we had very strict guidelines for grading. Plus every test was graded by two different people working seperately (and this pair was never the same for more than one batch of 10 (or was that 20?) tests) who did not see the grade given by the other person. Every time the two primary graders did not agree, the test was graded a third time by someone else (who did not know what grades had been given, just that they were third).

Anyway, my experience was that for the most part, grading the tests was not difficult. And, was for the most part "consistent" (with the grading guidelines in any case).

(Although I freely admit that the standardized grading guidelines we had to follow did not leave any room for creativity and we were sometimes forced to give a lower grade to a student who had clearly understood the text but didn't answer the question than to a student who didn't seem to have understood the text but had been able to throw the right "buzz words" into the answer to fit the grading criteria. But, that's a whole other can of worms!)
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#19 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 01:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for clarifying, Mothra.

Dd (fifth grade) just had to take the Virginia Standards of Learning test in writing. Day one was a multiple choice test, but on day two of testing, children were asked to write an essay on some general topic. I think it was "Describe an interesting place you've visited." They had to turn in all of their work--any preliminary notes, a rough draft and final draft. I think a test like that would give a fair assessment of a child's ability to write, but I do wonder about the essay topic. I suppose you could argue that a poor child who never gets to go anywhere would be really challenged by that question. Although, such a child could write about a class field trip, so maybe it is a fair question. Dd's class went to Colonial Williamsburg in the fall.
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#20 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 05:33 PM
 
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I worked on a workbook for Rhode Islands students on the language arts portion of their standardized tests. The rubric for scoring the essay portion was like reading a manual for refueling the space station. I've worked in educational publishing for almost four years and they get more and more complicated every year, it seems. Not all tests are scored by two readers. Many are set up so that random tests are scored by two independent readers, but not all of them.

The tests can vary a lot from state to state, which puts kids who move a lot, like mine, at a disadvantage.

daylily-- I hate those types of questions. One test I worked with, to prepare a practice test, had a question about how they choose the clothes they buy at the beginnning of the school year. I can't remember exactly how it was worded. Not all kids get to go on a big school clothes shopping trip.

One of the companies I freelance for is really into creating socially responsible test questions for the practice tests, workbooks, etc. I think that is great, but the actual tests are still rife with crap that is totally inappropriate.
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#21 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 05:36 PM
 
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One test I worked with, to prepare a practice test, had a question about how they choose the clothes they buy at the beginnning of the school year. I can't remember exactly how it was worded. Not all kids get to go on a big school clothes shopping trip.
Exactly! Would I have gotten the question wrong if I wrote "My grandma sends me a big box of stuff from a thrift store and if it doesn't fit, I still have to wear it?"

Someone else mentioned taking a test to get into a gifted class. I don't know if it was on this thread or another one. I was in "the gifted class" in 3rd grade and I didn't have to take a test. The teachers all knew me, and knew I belonged in the class based on my performance rather than on how I scored on a test.
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#22 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 05:39 PM
 
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Exactly! Would I have gotten the question wrong if I wrote "My grandma sends me a big box of stuff from a thrift store and if it doesn't fit, I still have to wear it?"
They wouldn't get the question wrong, but it is an awful lot for a kid to have to sit there and think about how poor he or she is compared to most of his or her classmates while taking a standardized tests. Studies have shown that these "distractors" affect students' test performance, which is why the companies that supply workbooks and practice tests to the school districts and parents are careful, for the most part, to eliminate them. It would be great if the powers that control the writing of the standardized tests would do the same.
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#23 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 07:08 PM
 
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My ds is in sixth grade and is taking US history this year. A few days ago I guizzed him a bit about early US history. He could not name the second president of the United States. He didn't know who was president during the war of 1812 and had only the barest understanding of that war and why it was fought. He had the most cursary understanding of the Continental Congress, and could not correctly name the people who wrote the Constitution. And yet he's been getting A's in history. What the heck has he been learning all this time? Well, he knows that his teacher's favorite TV show is "West Wing." He had a project in which he and a group had to create a society loosly based on the "Survivor" TV show--although what that has to do with US History I can not say.

I'm sorry to say I wouldn't have passed much of this quiz either. Was it because my past teachers all sucked? I don't believe so. I graduated from a pretty prominant university and earned good grades too. I just don't have the ability to retain useless (to me) knowledge. It has been at least 6 yrs since anyone has required me to know the dates of the civil war. In class I was interested, studied hard, and got A's on the tests, but now American History is just not part of my life. I have enough trouble remembering things I studied for my major, although I do better with that. For instance, I probably could name quite a few characters out of Shakespeare's plays.

That example of the 10th graders who do not even know how many weeks there are in a month is just pitiful though. I would absolutely say that is a reflection on the parents and the society those kids are surrounded by and not the schools. That is just common, everyday knowledge.
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#24 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 07:29 PM
 
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A high school student who doesn't know how many weeks are in a month has probably not seen a calendar. And why is that? Is it because he has no life outside of the classroom, and has no need to look at a calendar? Are his parents horribly disorganized people who don't write anything down, so there are no calendars in the house? There could be any number of reasons for this.

I also would get those history questions wrong. I know there was Washington and Adams, that Lincoln was #16, and then there were a bunch more and then Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and little Bush. (I know the names of some of the others, just not where they fit in.) I also don't know very many state capitals, and probably could not make a list of all 50 states. I have no idea what Congress does - I think they make rules though - and all I know about the constitution is that it gives me the right to carry a gun and say whatever I want as long as it's not "theater" in a crowded firehouse. (And that it doesn't give equal rights to gays.) And yes, I got an A in history and just about everything else, too!

I don't think all my teachers sucked - though a few did - or that I'm just dumb or that my parents were unwilling to help with my homework. (Although my mother was a geography teacher and her teaching style was just not working for me, at least she was willing.) I think, like someone else said, I don't need to retain knowledge that is useless to me at this time. Why do I need to know the state capitals? I don't ever plan on visiting them. The only time I can think I'd need all that information is if my children wanted to know. If it comes to that, we can look it up together.

Or if I wanted to know out of curiosity, I could ask dh. He's big on academics and especially loves history and geography.

I also know that despite my terrible ignorance, I'm still the best teacher my children could ever have.
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#25 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 10:00 PM
 
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"I also know that despite my terrible ignorance, I'm still the best teacher my children could ever have."

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#26 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 10:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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A high school student who doesn't know how many weeks are in a month has probably not seen a calendar. And why is that? Is it because he has no life outside of the classroom, and has no need to look at a calendar?
Honestly, Greaseball, I'm not trying to pick on you by constantly quoting your posts back at you. But "calendar" is a fundamental activity in the primary grades. I've sent three children to public school and the day always starts with "calendar." The month and date are marked, the weather recorded, the previous day crossed off. Birthdays or other important days are marked. This is a classroom activity that happens every day for at least three years. How could kids manage not to learn about our year?

That question about buying school clothes is really unfair. I was dressed almost exclusively in hand-me-downs and bargain basement finds, so I can relate to how difficult it would be to write a really sparkling essay about that topic.

Momsgotmilk4two--ds just learned all that stuff earlier this year, so I expected it to be fresh in his mind. I don't expect him to remember every detail about ancient Egypt, which he learned back in second grade--but some of it sunk in, I'm sure.

I can't imagine a single case, anywhere, in which a child was harmed by learning a piece of seemingly arcane knowlege. When you learn about history, it's like you are taking part in an endless conversation. It's important to be exposed to this stuff, even if you only retain a small part of it.

Let's say, when you're 40, you suddenly become fascinated in the Civil War and read everything you can about it. Wouldn't any previous background of knowlege in that subject--any at all--be of some help to you? And more importantly, if you were never exposed to the story of the war, would you even be inspired to want to learn about it?

And since we've been using history as an example, let me just say that history is fascinating. It's not so much about events as the people who shaped those events, and very often those people are really interesting to study. Continental Congress: there was one guy who always shielded half his face in a silk scarf. Several other members were eccentric or interesting in other ways.

One of the framers of the Constitution (Gouverneur Morris) shared a mistress with Tallyrand. They had a penchant for public sex, including a quickie at the dinner table before the servants came in to clear away the dishes. I didn't learn that in high school, of course, but my point is that it's possible to make history into one of a kid's favorite subjects.
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#27 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 10:52 PM
 
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No, you're definitely not HARMED by learning arcane knowledge. But kids shouldn't be penalized for NOT knowing it. It's not a true measure of one's education.

And BTW, the Virginia SOL tests suck.
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#28 of 94 Old 03-23-2004, 11:40 PM
 
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I recently read Education as Enforcement: The Militarization and Corporatization of Schools a collection of essays by Kenneth J. Saltman & David A. Gabbard. It has many essays including one by a Native American who notes that Native American children have the poorest scores on those tests of any group of Americans; lower still than other non-whites. That author and others argure that standardized tests reinforce existing inequalities in the educational system by penalizing those (underfunded) schools with the lowest scores. Also, the standard set by the tests ensure an education that tracks children into lousy low-paying jobs - the only thing they're qualified for. One essay compares the aptly named Groundview (mostly black students) and Mountainview high schools near Chicago. Mountainview has a wing devoted entirely to the fine arts; Groundview a wing devoted to JROTC. A quote:

"Mountainview resembles a small liberal art college with over three hundred multilevel, discipline-based academic courses... Groundview's curricula resembles the industrial education model designed for ex-slaves, which prepares poor African-American youth to take on the "simpler trades."

Every year the Pentagon cannot acount for what it did with 50 billion dollars. Are they held to account? How many adult institutions must prove their efficiency? I find it disingenuous, at the very least, that schools must prove themselves.

[Mothra] Thanks for your insights about the tests


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I remember reading an article of the German education model when it came to their eleventh grade. By that time, a German student has a handle on what he or she wants out of life. They then choose the direction of University or technical school. Understand that technical school in Germany means studying with the top tools that the proud German corporations have to offer, all donated and set up in gleaming, state of the art buildings. When Mercedes Benz, now Daimler Chrysler, sees that the factory is out of date, they tear down and rebuild. When asked for the rationale of spending millions to teach the German youth about technology that they may very well use when working at a rival car company, they reply, "But, they are our children."
~ Patrick Manning "The Hollowing of America"
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#29 of 94 Old 03-24-2004, 12:06 AM
 
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I can't imagine a single case, anywhere, in which a child was harmed by learning a piece of seemingly arcane knowlege. When you learn about history, it's like you are taking part in an endless conversation. It's important to be exposed to this stuff, even if you only retain a small part of it.
I don't think it's the learning that's harmful, I think what's harmful is taking time away from things the child wants to learn about, or teaching these things in only one way. There were things I wanted to learn in high school, and when I asked my teachers about them they said "First you have to learn this other stuff." I assured them that I would be able to pass the more interesting classes and offered them samples of my work (non-school work, stuff I had done on my own time) and that's when they told me the "basic" classes weren't meant to prepare me for the fun stuff, but rather the fun stuff was supposed to be an incentive to get me to do the boring stuff.

Blueviolet's education site has something on it that says, "Imagine if you went to the library as an adult to check out a book on aviation, and were told that before you could read that book there were several others you must read first." (Or something like that.) That's most of what I experienced, and that's what I think really harms kids.

There are some things I am interested in and have researched on my own time, and I can have a somewhat intelligent conversation about them, but if you start asking me names and dates I don't know them off the top of my head.
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#30 of 94 Old 03-24-2004, 11:53 AM - Thread Starter
 
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That author and others argure that standardized tests reinforce existing inequalities in the educational system by penalizing those (underfunded) schools with the lowest scores.
Yes. This is what is happening with No Child Left Behind. I was just at a school board meeting in which the superintendent explained how NCLB will affect our city's elementary schools. It's a potential disaster. Out of our six elementary schools, as many as three may not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, which means that all the children in those schools will be eligible to transfer into the other three schools. What will that accomplish? As far as I can see, we'll just end up with three seriously over crowded schools instead of six schools that are able to handle their student load. Then no one will get a good education.

And ironically, the one school that definitely won't make AYP is probably the best school in the city in terms of reading instruction methods, student/teacher ratio, good principal, great building, etc.
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