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.


At 7:31 PM, Blogger educat said...

I had a wise woman once tell me, "they're sample questions for a reason". Remember, testing companies are for-profit operations and if they had a good question, they wouldn't give it away--it'd be on the test, which they sell.

When we run across a bad sample question, we tell Punkin that although, for example, this selection could contain both simile and analogy, hopefully those two wouldn't exist in the same question. However, I wonder if we can say that same thing in two years when passing our test is madatory for graduation.

So yes. Testing is both useful and stupid.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Walker said...

Our state tests are called:

SOL tests.

How's that for inspiring confidence in the students passing?

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Holbrook said...

Jen: I think I'd be more eager to accept the "sample questions are bad" theory, except that I've seen past writing prompts on real TAKS tests, and they're terrible. One was, "What is a memory that you know you'll never forget?"

It's a good thing I'm not a high school student, because I would have written, "The very fact that I haven't forgotten something is what makes that thing a memory, by definition. Dumbass."

Mel: That's pretty good, but I think I can do you one better. You know the permanent records of students? In Texas they're called the cumulative folders. When I get a new student I'll get an e-mail reminder to "go to the office to check the cum folder."

By the time I get there, the folder isn't even breathing hard.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Walker said...

I'd be more concerned with whether or not proper protection was used when filling the folder.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Walker said...

So, the question was:

"In Othello how was the Turkish fleet destroyed on its way to the island of Cyprus?"

The correct answer is that they were destroyed in a storm. One of the students said, "Drowned." which I thought was technically correct, but I wanted more details, so I said, "How did they drown?"

He replied, "The island sank."


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