Sunday, December 26, 2010

Limits of Testing: Data Rich - Information Poor

Here is a profound comment left by AngelaQ on my post Tests Get High Marks for preparing kids to... take more tests:

I have been teaching 8 years and have struggled under the weight of grades and what they don't mean for true learning. The truth of their effects didn't become crystal clear to me until a recent discussion with my 6th grade daughter's math teacher. After doing very well on homework and in class work, my daughter has "struggled" (i.e., gotten poorer grades) on the unit tests. After each test, I emailed the teacher asking for explanations of what my child was not learning/understanding or what else the issue could be. 
After the first test, I was told "it was the first test, it was hard, and the students weren't used to this type of RIGOROUS testing." 
After the second--"well they are allowed to redo for make up points."
After the third test--"she earned the make up points and I already handed back the tests, so I can't tell you what she's not understanding. We have another test in a day or two, let's see how she does on that one."
NOTE-not once was I given the requested information--what was she struggling with. All of the above tests--about a 70%.
Test 4-59%--this is after my daughter came home and said--"I think I did really well on the test today--it was percents and decimals and I KNOW how to do it." So, one more time I start the email process. This time I also Cc:d the principal. Longest email I ever got. Starts with a line about how she is sorry she "didn't understand what I had been requesting in previous emails, but the issue seems to be Isabel simply missing a step in the problems." I still don't know WHAT the step was, so I email back asking what exactly my daughter missed--I was told she understands and can apply the objective concepts (adding/subtracting and converting fractions), but she sometimes forgets to simplify the final fraction. she forgot a step. And that cost her almost 50% of the test. Hmmmm...
The final email from the teacher said it all and she should get a raise for selling the company line so well! "Well as a teacher yourself you should know how tricky those state assessments can be, I am trying to get them to pass those assessments."
End of story. My daughter is not there to learn and understand how to apply the concepts. She's there to spend 2 days reviewing the test by taking a "practice test" together. Spending 2 days taking the actual test. And then getting no help from home, because she is not allowed to bring home her work (it's ALL kept to go through at the end of the quarter for a "portfolio") so mom has no idea what is being taught. 
As a teacher myself, I work in an unconventional school that doesn't necessarily follow the same grading constraints as traditional schools. And I struggle with the thought of ever going back into a traditional school and having to deal with these ideas again. My daughter is now at a point where she wants out of school b/c she sees how my school works and why she can't be doing the same kind of learning.

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