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Posts Tagged ‘testing’

At my husband’s college reunion yesterday, we heard a former classmate talk about a wonderfully innovative school he founded  in San Diego (High Tech High).

After hearing that a fairly typical class project was developing a genetic bar code to identify endangered species in the bush, my husband wondered how such an inventive school can function in today’s teaching-to-the-test world. I myself figured that whatever the kids absorb from meaningful projects and cutting-edge teaching they absorb deeply enough to pass tests if they need to.

And when I think of the lengths to which test mania is going, I think more schools should learn from High Tech High. Consider the latest testing aberration: robots grading essays.

Les Perelman at the Boston Globe gives examples:

” ‘According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.

“Any native speaker over age 5 knows that the preceding sentences are incoherent babble. But a computer essay grader, like the one Massachusetts may use as part of its new public school tests, thinks it is exceptionally good prose.

“PARCC, the consortium of states including Massachusetts that is developing assessments for the Common Core Curriculum, has contracted with Pearson Education, the same company that graded the notorious SAT essay, to grade the essay portions of the Common Core tests. Some students throughout Massachusetts just took the pilot test, which wasted precious school time on an exercise that will provide no feedback to students or to their schools.

“It was, however, not wasted time for Pearson. The company is using these student essays to train its robo-grader to replace one of the two human readers grading the essay, although there are no published data on their effectiveness in correcting human readers.

“Robo-graders do not score by understanding meaning but almost solely by use of gross measures, especially length and the presence of pretentious language. The fallacy underlying this approach is confusing association with causation. A person makes the observation that many smart college professors wear tweed jackets and then believes that if she wears a tweed jacket, she will be a smart college professor.” More here.

Uh-oh. Sounds like the children’s book Petunia. Fortunately, a timely explosion taught the silly goose that books have pages you need to read, that carrying a book under your wing doesn’t make you smart.

More explosions needed.

Photo: blog.spoongraphics.co.uk

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Holmes-School-Dorchester-MaA new employee goes to the Oliver Wendell Holmes School in Dorchester with the team I’m on. He can’t get over how great it is to work for an organization that gives you time to do this. We go out once a month from January to June, and other teams go once a month so that we cover every week.

I started eight years ago with the team that read picture books to a room of first graders. Then I read for a few years with fifth or fourth graders who received chapter books from the librarian. These were students whose teachers thought they would appreciate the extra reading. We all read aloud, with the adult volunteers only taking a turn if the story seemed to lag.

Holmes is a minority-majority urban school with many dedicated teachers who are tolerant of the extra work it takes to herd volunteers. (We also have volunteers who work on math.)

This year, the team I’m on includes the woman who started the whole relationship with Holmes 20 years ago and is now retired. We are assigned to read copies of printed passages and help the children answer multiple-choice questions from tests they have had in the past.

Given the current nationwide emphasis on testing and these third graders’ tendency to keep guessing wildly, I consider it my role to focus on the thought process and deemphasize getting the right answer. I ask, Why do you think that’s the answer? How did you get there?

The administrators often tell us that we make a difference. We’re probably just a drop in the bucket. But, you know, One and One and 50 Make a Million.

More employers should make it so easy to improve the world in which they operate. Other employees probably spend the hour and a half it takes to go out, tutor, and get back once a month in less valuable ways.

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Amusing validation for folks who think standardized testing has gone too far.

“A reading passage included [last] week in one of New York’s standardized English tests,” writes Anemona Hartocollis in the NY Times, “has become the talk of the eighth grade, with students walking around saying, ‘Pineapples don’t have sleeves,’ as if it were the code for admission to a secret society.

“The passage is a parody of the tortoise and the hare story, the Aesop’s fable that almost every child learns in elementary school. Only instead of a tortoise, the hare races a talking pineapple.”

Apparently, the test questions were so nonsensical, the kids are still scratching their heads. “And by Friday afternoon, the state education commissioner had decided that the questions would not count in students’ official scores.”

Have a chuckle here.

[We interrupt this broadcast for the baby to chew on my knuckle while his mother tries to get some stuff done,]

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