Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Professor Sums up the Testing Controversy

Steven Dutch, a professor at the University of Wisconsin has a great post up on the Top Ten No Sympathy Lines for students who complain about their grades is class. One of them summed up my opinion on standardized testing and its opponents.

I Know The Material - I Just Don't Do Well on Exams

Leprechauns, unicorns, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, hobbits, orcs - and students who know the material but don't do well on exams. Mythical creatures.
I've met students who claim to know the material but not do well on exams, but when you press them, it turns out they don't know the material after all. If you can't answer questions about the material or apply the knowledge in an unfamiliar context, you don't know it. You might have vague impressions of specific ideas, but if you can't describe them in detail and relate them to other ideas, you don't know the material.
In addition to content, every type of exam used in college requires specific, vital intellectual skills. Essay exams require you to organize material and present it in your own words. Short-answer exams require you to frame precise, concise answers to questions. Multiple choice exams require you to define criteria for weeding out false alternatives and selecting one best answer. All of these are useful skills in themselves. If you can't do well on some specific type of test - learn the appropriate skill.

emphasis mine

I have never understood the argument against standardized testing. I am in the USAF and we have multiple choices tests as part of our promotion system. I have had several people who work for me who tell me that they "don't do well on tests" to explain their low scores. Inevitably when I dig deeper, I discover that the real problem its not testing that they do poorly on, its studying... as in not doing it. If our students don't do well on tests, its not because tests are faulty, its because the teaching was inadequate. I also have no sympathy for those who say they get too nervous before tests due to the pressure. What are they going to do when their boss gives them a deadline at work... freeze up and not do it. If someone is that bothered by the pressure, then they aren't going to much use in the workforce anyway. In the military we practice practice practice until our jobs become almost second nature. Its the same with elementary education. Our students need to practice, study and yes memorize the basics so that when they move on to high school and college the basic reading and math is second nature. That way they can concentrate on the more comprehensive tying together of facts part of education. How else to measure how well our students have accomplished this, then to test them.

Hat tip Joanne Jacobs

Carnival of Education "The Village People" Edition.

What ever side or opinion you hold about education, schools, or anything related, the weekly Carnival of Education is always a must read. I am especially happy to say that even I got a mention (ok, I submitted my own post). I was especially happy to see several new blogs from parents, but whomever you are, be sure to check out The "Village People" Education Carnival Get on the Bus Observations on schools, kids, teachers, teaching and education by Scott Elliott, Dayton Daily News.

Young man... la, la, la la, la, la...

grrr.... I got that song stuck in my head now.

Y M C A...

Meeting the teacher.

I just got back from a meeting with my 3rd grade daughters teacher. A couple of weeks ago she had contacted us to develop an “academic plan” because our daughter had scored below proficient on the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests (PACT). Overall the meeting went relatively smoothly, but we did throw the teacher some curveballs.

First, the teacher was rather surprised when we informed her that we thought that daughter was getting a little too much homework. For example last night our daughter had to put her 15 spelling words in ABC order three times (30 minutes), do a reading worksheet, (30 minutes), a math worksheet (20 minutes), study her 1, 2, 3, and 5 multiplication facts (20 minutes), and read for 15 minutes and fill out her reading log (20 minutes). On top of this, I had to take her to soccer practice (1.5 hours), feed her (30 minutes), shower (30 minutes)… you get the idea. I got the impression that the teacher wasn’t receptive to our complaint, but she did say she would consider splitting up the ABC order and the writing the words three times into separate nights. We have noticed that combining these two exercises intimidates our kids and causes them to get a little whiney. The teacher did say that the homework should only take them 45 minutes a night, not including the studying and reading… she obviously doesn’t have kids of her own. I am considering video taping our daughter after school so the teacher would have more realistic expectations. It was also mentioned that many kids turn in wrong and incomplete homework that it’s obvious the parents haven’t checked it. Maybe our high expectations contribute to the problem. When it comes down to it, if her teacher assigns it, then our daughter will do it and do it right.

The other issue that the teacher and we both agreed on was how the district handles after school tutoring. She was required to have an academic plan because she didn’t meet standards, but she didn’t score low enough to qualify for the tutoring program. Talk about stupid. Maybe next time we should tell her to do worse on the tests…

Now on to the crux of the problem, her reading comprehension. She is bright and doing well in every other subject, but reading is a struggle for her. My guess is that a large part of her problem is recognizing new and/or long words. For some reason she gets really frustrated when we ask her to sound out the words. I have discovered that she will often read a passage and say that she understood it, but when I ask her to read it out loud, she will not know several key words. I know there are some good teachers out there… any suggestions?