There was a period of time today when my classroom and its inhabitants were quiet and trying super hard to do their best on the first session of their state exams. Multiple choice. No one had a meltdown (until later), and even the ones who I thought might not try—they really, truly did try.
As I slowly paced around the room, taking care to speak only of procedural matters (“This bubble is not filled in.”) for fear of invalidating our school’s test scores and putting all of our careers in peril, I read the passages (which seemed endless to ME) and questions that my students were attempting to answer.
Make no mistake—like many teachers, I am blessed with a proclivity toward test-taking. I am just lucky; I have excelled at standardized tests my whole life. Please believe me when I tell you that I am not a teacher who is skating by intellectually. I haven’t tricked anyone into erroneously believing that I was intelligent enough to teach a curriculum placed before me. I probably walk the tightrope of being an obnoxious intellectual more than I like to admit. Because, really, who cares that I know the Latin name for that flower?
Still, the following is true: I cannot tell you with any certainty that, had I sat down to tackle this test, given the same time period allotted these ten- and eleven-year-olds, I would have been able to a) complete it, or, b) attained a passing score. Forgive me for the annoying use of lettering there.
This test was constructed with many plausible distractors for most questions. A typical guide for construction of distractors states something like this:
“Do not do write complex distractors that require high level logical thinking. You are testing the question posed in the stem, not the student’s logical reasoning ability.” Pedagogue Solutions
This is not suggesting that we avoid high level logical thinking; just that we are clear in tests about what we want students to do. Critical thinkers tend to be at a disadvantage with such questions, simply because they can find arguments to support both possibilities.
I cannot think of one individual I know, of any age, who would sit down with this test and feel confident that they had chosen the correct answers intended by the test-makers. And I know some freaking brilliant people.
One might construe this as a teensy bit problematic. A LOT of people are alarmingly willing to drink the school reform Kool-Aid these days. High standards! That sounds great!
It’s my opinion that adults of many occupations (especially parents, policymakers and school reformers) should have to take the tests before they sign off on the millions that finance them. Just for kicks, you know.
All that aside, I also found it personally problematic that I had to shut down kids’ questions about what happened in Boston, because we had to begin in exactly 4.6 minutes, and we never made it back around to that discussion. As soon as the test was over, my class was required, by the laws of physics, to return to their usual loud, angry, paper-launching selves. Otherwise, they would have all turned into pumpkins.
Five more testing sessions. Go team!
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