Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am outraged by the stupidity of standardized testing

 Here are some sample questions from the practice 8th grade state reading test given in my school this week:

(after reading a short passage on World War I)
1. If the Archduke of Austria had not been assassinated,
       a. there would not have been a war.
       b. he would have stopped the war from occuring.
       c. some other event would have caused World War I.
       d. Germany would have won the war.

That's a good question, but it seems more like a take home essay topic in Modern European History (HS 201).

(after reading an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland)
2. people who enjoy reading this type of literature would probably read
     a. Fear Street thrillers
     b. a biography about Michael Jordan
     c. Gulliver's Travels
     d. A Child's Garden Book of Verses

I think it's either c or d, but what junior high school kid has read Gulliver's Travels? It's hardly a children's book. There was a movie about it last year, but it seems even worse to me if the kids are being tested on their movie knowledge. And who in the last 40 years has read A Child's Garden Book of Verses? and which one is Alice in Wonderland more similar to?

(after reading a job application)
3. Why would an employer be interested in an applicant's "Employment History"?
      a. to find out salaries other companies offer
      b. to find out why applicants have left previous jobs
      c. to help determine an applicant's qualifications
      d. to help determine what salary to pay an employee.

um, all of them?

These are the evaluation tools being used to sort the smart kids from the stupid ones and to denigrate teachers and take away their collective bargaining rights.

I will never complain about my last round pairings again.

I know I made this point before, albeit in a comment, but here's my insight into the standardized testing cheating scandals. If a teacher wants to cheat and not get caught by telltale erasure marks, all (s)he has to do is tell the class "Don't guess if you aren't sure; big deductions are taken for wrong answers. Just leave it blank if you aren't 95% sure"

Then you can cheat faster (you know which questions were hard for the child) and you don't need an eraser at all! It's amazing to me that no one in the Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Connecticut school districts seems to have thought of this.


Anonymous said...

Those were indeed stupid questions. Perhaps we need to test the test creators!

Hexster said...

"It's amazing to me that the Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Connecticut school districts did not think of this."

If I had to guess, I'd say that you are substantially brighter than the average teacher in the Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Connecticut school districts.

Leon Akpalu said...

Yup. And with the SATs it's more of the same. That's why they're so culturally dependent -- it's all about getting a handle on how the nice, dumb suburban teachers who write the tests think.

Keith Ammann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Ammann said...

One year when I was teaching, the ISAT (Illinois's high-stakes test) featured a question about a toothpaste advertisement which I found impossible to answer. One choice was clearly the right answer if you assumed that the advertiser was telling the truth about its product. A different choice was clearly the right answer if you assumed that the advertiser was being dishonest. There was no other basis for determining whether the advertiser was more likely to be honest or dishonest. That's not a test of reading comprehension or even of critical thinking -- it's a test of ideology.

BTW, the fact that I just told you all that is technically breach of contract -- teachers are prohibited from discussing the contents of the ISAT with anyone, anywhere. Accountability is just for schools and teachers, I guess, not for exam publishers.

chessdrummer said...

I went to Chicago Public Schools and I didn't do well on these exams. However, I was always near the top in my classes. The teachers knew there was something amiss. Fortunately, I had enough confidence to continue to prove myself in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

These are indeed horrible examples - but one shouldn't label all standardized testing as bad. These are crappy questions no doubt and should have been weeded out or corrected.
BUT having acknowledged this point, part of the reason you and other people are able to recognize that these are poor questions is your higher level of knowledge.
A lot of the kids do need teaching to a specific test if that means they can read at a grade appropriate level and do grade appropriate arithmetic. In many districts it isn't this type of question that is the problem with standardized testing, it is the reality that kids are being promoted who can't even read at a second grade level and can't add a column of 4 or 5 numbers and can't do simple division or understand basic fractions and percentages.

hellcat97 said...

This is merely another example of what an old friend would call 'stupidness in motion'.

Here's to a generation of students who know every app on their cell phones, yet have no idea how to deal with real life.

But all those kids will score 23,900 on the SAT and make Mommy and Daddy happy!

Anonymous said...

I have been in the business world for a few decades. We test all the time! We test people we are looking at hiring, we test people in our initial training programs, we require on-going testing and certification every year. And the testing is increasing -- we now test executives on various business areas. Are some of the test questions stupid -- yes they are! But the testing continues .. it's part of the world that our youngsters will inherit.

adam porth said...

Testing is a great way to earn money for the test givers and a great way to avoid responsibility by assigning blame on others for deficiencies.

ejh said...

It's hardly a children's book

In its original form, no, but (a children's bookseller writes) there are many versions specifically for children, generally centring on the Liliput segment of the original, perhaps to the exclusion of the rest. Hence many people actually know it as a children's book - in fact I've had a lot of conversations with people to whom I've explained that originally it was a satire on eighteenth century life and politics and not for kids at all!

Come to that, many people who have read Alice may only have read it in one of its many, many abridged forms. I'd guess that somebody who did would also be interested in an abridged Gulliver.

(None of this detracts from your criticisms of testing, with which I'm in agreement. Don't like them. And I was good at them.)