Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jay Mathews Gets Me Again

I think I might be a glutton for punishment sometimes. I keep reading Jay Mathews' Class Struggle in the Washington Post in spite of how often I get angry as a result. (I do have to admit that he's had some recent posts that surprised me in quite a positive way.)

Recently he wrote about end of year math tests in Montgomery County. Apparently half of the students fail these tests. These aren't state standardized tests, these are county created. Montgomery County students are doing significantly better on the state tests than on the county ones.

Mathews sees this failure as a positive thing.
Those big failure rates prove that Montgomery is one of the rare school districts that administers end-of-course tests challenging enough to flunk, thereby exposing poor student preparation and weak state standards.
I don't buy it.

An end of the course test covers a ton of material. Material students may have been quite successful with back in October, but can't recall as well by June. (Quite possibly, these tests cover too much content.) It's also a test that is given at a chaotic time of year. The end of a school year is full of events, fun and stressful, that impact students and teachers in many ways. One impact is that students may not be at their peak for attention, focus, and recall. That could impact end of course test results.

In addition, has anyone considered that these students may be all tested out? How many state, county, school, and classroom tests have they taken before these end of course tests? How much energy do they have left by the end of the year?

And if these students had phenomenal pass rates for these end of course tests would that prove that they are smarter than other students? Would it prove they learned more? Or would it prove they are good at cramming and taking tests?

I might have let all that go and moved on with only minor irritation if Mathews hadn't brought up one of his favorite stats near the end.
Graduation barriers are similarly low in most other states, even though in the past 30 years there has been no significant increase in average reading and math achievement for 17-year-old Americans.
Are my children (my daughters and my students) expected to be smarter than I was at their age? Am I expected to be smarter than my parents were at my age? Why do we expect that average reading and math scores will go up each year? Why must the next group of kids do better than the ones before them? When do we cap out? When do we say, "We did it. We achieved our goal."?

1 comment:

PamelaTrounstine said...

Having experienced some serious failure with district, etc. level tests, I posit--- 50% fail because the test was poorly written. Because there was more than one right answer (which adults grading could not see/believed one was better). Or the question had no good answer. Or because over the many revisions to the question the question was worded poorly and/or no longer asked what it was meant to ask, and the result on the test makes no sense or isn't worth asking and the students can see it and bubble something and move on. There is so much at stake when districts or counties write exams (and yet so little money for development, particularly careful development) that the adults involved won't admit they are wrong/the questions are wrong or bad when teachers challenge them on those lousy questions. The power, the relationship, the trust, the triumph that can exist when a student challenging a teacher-made assessment and finds a better answer than one provided, than the one chosen best, or the question can be shown to be mis-interpreted more than one way... teachers should create assessments and be ok with some mistakes because students who find them are showing they have learned the material, that they are confident in their mastery to challenge something.... And the teacher learns from students and makes better assessments, and learns to the love the variety that require students to really explain their answers even though they are more complicated to grade, when the concept is really important to both teacher and student growth. But when adults challenge the adults, they will occasionally "wipe" a question so there's no right or wrong for it under duress, but the next revision may be no better, and those who created the test do not want to hear the objections of the teachers, claiming that the teachers are just unhappy with the results.

I mean, how many of us got degrees in psychometrics? (I tell you though, if I knew that existed 10 years ago, that might have been my career path.)