Saturday, April 26, 2008

TAKS test

This bugged the hell out of me yesterday.

I should begin by saying that standardized testing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Without them, there is nothing to stop schools from becoming diploma mills. For the general good, some standard of education must be maintained by the state. The only way to assess this standard is to test all students.

That being said, standardized testing is only good if the test itself is good. And the Texas TAKS test is not a good test.

I help with math tutorials. Most of the questions are word problems that have some kind of practical value. They're usually somewhat simple, multi-step problems that are in some way useful.

But every fifth or sixth problem is something ridiculous. On Friday a girl was having trouble with a problem. "Which of the following answers is the best estimation for the weight of a small pickup truck?"

Now, there are three separate problems with this question. One, a sixth grade girl doesn't drive, and doesn't know what "small pickup truck" means. She asked me if it meant a toy truck. Sounds silly, but why wouldn't she think that?

Secondly, the four possible answers had two of them in metric weights and two in tons. Their formula chart had sample conversions within each system (like, 2000 pounds is a ton, and 1000 milligrams is a kilogram) but no indication of one to the other. One of the possible answers was "10 kilograms," and this girl had no way of knowing if that was correct. She had no context because she didn't know what a kilogram actually was.

Finally, none of the answers were good answers. The four possibilities were 100 centigrams, 10 kilograms, a half ton, and ten tons. None are even close to the weight of any pickup truck! I'm assuming "one half ton" is correct, partly because it is closer to the actual weight of pickups than the other answers, but mostly because I assume the author of this test question got confused by hearing TV commercials that talk about "half ton pickups," not aware that the commercials are talking about load capacity, not total weight.

It's kind of like asking, "What is the best estimate for the attendance of tonight's baseball game? Is it eleven people, or four trillion people?" Well, "eleven people" is closer, but that's so far off that it can't really be called an estimate.

So what is a teacher to do? This girl asked for help, and I couldn't provide it, and trying to explain to her that the Texas Educational Agency is composed of people who couldn't hack it in the classroom would have been a fruitless endeavor.

If this is what we're telling kids they need to do in order advance to the next grade, then we are doing them a tremendous disservice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Save the mount!

Save the Mount!
Why Edith Wharton's house is an architectural treasure.
By Kate Bolick
Posted Monday, April 21, 2008, at 7:22 AM ET

Outside design circles, not many people know that Edith Wharton's first publication was a decorating manual. It's a perplexing fact. Our own American grande dame, author of more than 40 books, friend of Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt … bothered herself with wallpaper and sconces? (Actually, she loathed wallpaper.) But after the initial shock, perhaps you'll remember reading The Age of Innocence or seeing Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of it and realize that Wharton is fused in your mind with masterfully described interiors—at which point, your confusion will click into a satisfied "Huh!" If so, you might be moved, as I was, to rent a car and go visit the Mount, the only one of Wharton's many residences remaining. But act fast: If the Mount doesn't somehow acquire $3 million by April 24, the bank is going to shut it down. The interiors you're about to see may be lost to the public forever.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why didn't I think of this?

David Horvitz offers many kinds of services (not that kind of services, Craig).

Although this has nothing to do with teaching or Shakespeare, I thought I would share this with you guys because

1) I think it's a neat idea - honest, but kinda magical.


2) I'm tired of seeing teenage heart-throbs when I check here.

For what it's worth, I think about you guys for free frequently!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

High School Shakespeare

My English class decided that the Romeo in Zeffirelli's movie looks remarkably like Zac Efron of "High School Musical" fame:

Have you/your students noticed the similarity?