Saturday, June 9, 2012

Less Celebrated Pearson Problems - A Guide for Parents on How Teachers Were Asked to Score Math State Test

There was a protest today at the Pearson headquarters on 1330 6th Avenue in Manhattan on what is now referred to as "Chancellor's Day", formerly "Brooklyn Queens Day".  By now, the field testing with the students and the horrible questions are well publicized.  Yes, your children are being used in experiments in school, by large, for-profit corporations!  But this is only the beginning of the problems with the new Pearson, high-stakes tests.  If you were scandalized by the pineapple or the "tell me your secret" question, wait until you hear about how the graders were asked to score them!  Before I go into details, I would like to state for the record that this information was not acquired as a scorer or as a proctor, since I did not score the test this year, and I proctored the sixth grade exam, from which none of the examples below were taken.  If parents think that the questions were ridiculous, let me tell you, that was nothing compared with how they are being graded. 

I'll start with the least mathematically complex issues and work my way to the problems that need a bit more math knowledge.  The first new scoring rule is that spelling counts; scorers were told to only count "reasonable" spellings, so many English language learners tried to phonetically spell some math terms, which they mangled.  I still can't spell "glockenspiel", nor "schadenfreude", and I'm an amateur linguist married to a German.  A child who answered "rektengoll" would get no credit for  this answer, when any reasonable adult would know the intended meaning, especially since children are taught "invented spelling" in the early grades.  Yes, thank you, early education researchers for telling teachers to tell kids to make up any old spelling, so that the rest of us must struggle to contradict this.  Certainly this is the example containing the least math, since, last time I checked, spelling was another subject entirely.  I have always told my students that spelling doesn't count, as long as you don't tell me that you misspelled "rectangle" as "parallelogram", but no longer.  If it's comprehensible but not even close to spelled correctly, they take points off.
You could do math the hard way, but we
teach kids the shortcuts
Next, let's discuss patterns.  If a child correctly continued the pattern of dots as asked, but didn't draw the dots exactly as they were in the picture,  scorers were told to take off point.  The picture in question had "closed" dots (), but if the child drew the pattern using "open" dots (), they did not get full credit.  Now, I tell my students that mathematicians are lazy, and that they take shortcuts.  Even Ernie knew this, and that cat isn't the brightest.  So, the better you are at math, the more shortcuts you take.  But, in this case, if you didn't fill in your circles, you lost points.  The point of the question was to see if the child could recognize and continue the pattern, which is a math concept, and since this question was on a math test, not an art test, I hardly see the logic in taking points off for not copying the shape exactly.  But, then, I have experience in math pedagogy, and the representatives from the testing company, according to my sources, did not.

Here's another way to get it wrong
And, speaking of laziness, apparently "reflection", "commutative", "associative" and "distributive", to name a few math terms, are not lengthy enough.  No, scorers were told that the above answers were not specific enough and that the students needed to instead write "reflection across the x-" or "y-axis", "commutative" or "associative property of addition" or "multiplication", and, my personal favorite, "distributive property of addition over multiplication".  Who, besides a math teacher, even knows the full name of that property?  My students that I tested had an hour and 37 minutes of testing a day for three days, but apparently this does not test their endurance quite enough.  No, we need to make sure that they now need to write essays for the math test.  Brilliant.

On the subject of the distributive property, apparently this is another topic that the Pearson scoring supervisors never learned, because scorers were asked to not give credit to children who multiplied using this property.  For example, if, when needing to multiply 42 x 9, rather than using the traditional algorithm, a student broke the problem down to 40 x 9 + 2 x 9 (mental math), they were not given credit.  Yet, this is a strategy that students are taught in Everyday Math!  Insane!

Shall I continue?  Without boring you with the details, I'll hit a couple more "mistakes" that would take points off in brief:
  • Not including part-to-part or part-to-whole in the explanation.
  • Answering "quadrilateral" for Part A of a "Name this shape" question (acceptable answer), but defining a quadrilateral when they needed to define a rectangle in the "How did you know what shape it was" follow-up question.
  • "One child has $8 and his friend has the same amount.  Can they buy a $6 comb and a $14 ice cream sundae?"  If they said no, because 8 x 2 <> 20, they were not given credit.
  • Spacing and bar width on graphs must be uniform.
  • Conceptual errors get a zero for a two-point question.  
There is a massive amount of evidence from all sides that the company that New York and other states chose to prepare their tests really do not know what they are doing.  And, of course, parents will never see the graded tests, because you know if they did get their hands on them, there would be a lot of explaining to do.  All they get is a raw score.  For a test which is supposed to help teachers and students determine areas of weakness, it seems counterintuitive to not release the results.  Parents, we were working during this protest.  We need you to get out and protest this nonsense.  Get angry and make your voices heard.  It is time to stop the high stakes, high stress charade.

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