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Children have Reacted Viscerally to the Tests
January 23, 2014 7:53 AM   Subscribe

For many students in New York, the approach of spring means getting ready for standardized test season. However, many parents, with the encouragement of their children's teachers and administrators, are opting out. posted by roomthreeseventeen (36 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
The correlation of test scores to socioeconomic status can be chalked up largely to our property-tax-based public education funding system which just amplifies inequality. It seems to me that we definitely need a way to shore up fundamentals like math and language proficiency across the board, but without equitable redistribution of school dollars on a national level I'm not sure how it can be achieved.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:07 AM on January 23


this is exactly one of the intended outcomes of high-stakes testing: to alienate white middle-class parents even further from the public education system.

the problem is that the schools are a front-line in the war of the plutocracy against everyone else. no amount of money will actually change that.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:17 AM on January 23 [14 favorites]


This has suddenly become our world. We're moving to New York in a year and a half for my wife's job, just as our eldest daughter is entering kindergarten. Up until now, we've been easygoing, play-focused parents who care more about our kids' emotional development and overall well-being than how they measure up against arbitrary benchmarks. But New York is crazy. Literally crazy. We're not wealthy, so neighborhoods matter because schools matter. And if the girls can get into charter schools, we've got a shot at living in a cheaper neighborhood closer to where my wife will be teaching. If not, it's the outer boroughs and a long commute, with all that entails.

So we had a really awkward conversation with the daycare last week about preparing my daughter for these tests. Immediately I could see the administrator re-categorizing us and we got a stern lecture about self-esteem and holistic child development philosophies. I wanted to reply, "This isn't us!" But, of course, it is now.

Part of me wants to say fuck it and to trust that the kids of PhD parents will do fine under most circumstances. And I don't want my daughter to assess her self-worth on the basis of some bullshit metric dreamt up by an outcomes-obsessed moron who's colluded with an educational testing company. I read college admissions files. I know what well-prepared, good and thoughtful kids look like and I'm fully prepared to help my daughters to become that. But I literally have no idea how to make the educational landscape in New York serve that goal. We've got several friends in education and educational administration who live in the city and I expect we'll be leaning on them pretty hard in the coming year. But at the moment, this is just a sour knot in my stomach.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:18 AM on January 23 [18 favorites]


If you want a "fun" experiment: dig around a little on Trulia local and watch how the rental prices map perfectly onto the school districts.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:21 AM on January 23


"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play..."
posted by The Blue Olly at 8:22 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


R. Schlock, there are also private schools + scholarships and local parochial schools. If you want to Mefimail me where she'll be working I can help you look.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:42 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


this is exactly one of the intended outcomes of high-stakes testing: to alienate white middle-class parents even further from the public education system.

Yep. This is one of the main reasons we're considering private school. Even the best-rated public school districts have this bullshit.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:55 AM on January 23


Schlock -- you might be misunderstanding the system in NYC.

You are probably thinking of the gifted and talented programs, admission to which is based upon assessment(s) done when your kid is in pre-K. There are a wide variety of programs: gifted classes within general schools, district gifted schools, borough gifted schools, and citywide gifted schools. You need to do your research, but you won't have any access if you try to qualify shortly before kindergarten starts.

Most charter schools are oriented around the needs of underprivileged children, and do their admission by lottery (sometimes with a geographic or number of application limitation).
posted by MattD at 9:02 AM on January 23


This is linked in the main article, but I think it needs emphasis. Texas uses the Pearson tests too, and the questions are absurd. I scored ridiculously high on SATs, CLEPs, and GREs. Not because I are a genius, but I grokked standardized testing; and I couldn't figure out the answers for some of the 5th grade questions. Because, the answers are absurd and ridiculous and have more in common with Derrida than reality. Like this teacher mentioned, there were answers that were things like this:
A person has change in her pocket. She spends varying amounts at various places. In the end she has 1/45 left; how much money does she have. 1/45? When in college or life does anyone have occasion to work with forty-fifths? In another question we learn how long it takes kids to do something a certain number of times, and the question is how long does it take them to do it one time. The answer, which all the fifth graders I was with could figure out, was four minutes. The problem? Pearson wanted the answer in hours, and since it was not multiple choice, it was anyone’s guess what answer they were looking for. I hoped that the kids that wrote “1/15 hour” got it right.
And I about lost my shit when Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Education Secretary, sneered at critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

See, here's the thing, my kid *is* that brilliant, according to every metric that's been used to test him. He's considered "profoundly gifted". He does math I don't even understand, and he does it for fun...like other kids doodle, ya know? We have no real choice but public school, or sell the house and move. The only private schools within a 30 minute commute of the house are religious whackaloos who think the Flintstones was a documentary. If I go 45 minutes to 90 minutes, I can get to some amazing schools, but tuition starts at 20k, plus fees, plus field trips, plus supplies, plus mandatory donations to the building fund, plus, plus, plus, etc. Point being, that if I had to spend 6 hours a day ferrying him to and from school, I couldn't afford the school. (I can't afford the school in any case, but you get my point.)

This brilliant child, who tries so hard to please everyone, absolutely loses it when the standardized test times roll around. And it's not just him. I've talked before about how our entire neighborhood went into meltdown last year because the kids were so stressed out I thought they were going to have little mini heart attacks. I saw 4th graders having panic attacks about stupid tests. And now, in 5th grade, there's more tests. Full half the year is spent indoctrinating children with Pearson Brand Psuedoknowledge that only serves to be able to survive the insane test.

If I could opt him out of the testing, I would do it. If I could pull him out of school for just the weeks of testing, I would do that. The testing is probably what's going to lead to us leaving the public school system and homeschooling, despite the fact that I do not think I am at all qualified to teach a kid this bright, but I don' t know what else to do. The testing is the largest point of stress for every kid I know, and I just don't think it's fair to them to make little kids face GRE levels of stress all the damn time. I heard a 3rd graders say that they would kill themselves if they failed. I've heard 4th graders talking about how much their stomachs hurt when they think about the tests. I've seen kids throwing up on the day of tests. This is an insane, horrible, abusive thing to do to kids, and I don't know why, after a decade of it not solving any problems, we're still doing it.
posted by dejah420 at 9:04 AM on January 23 [47 favorites]


If you want a "fun" experiment: dig around a little on Trulia local and watch how the rental prices map perfectly onto the school districts.

This has been a blandly stated fact in "how to buy a house" books since the 90's. They even go so far as to suggest that childless home buyers should try to buy homes in good school districts as those houses tend to appreciate more and have more stable value. Which of course does no favours to families looking to buy in good school districts.
posted by GuyZero at 9:05 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


And I about lost my shit when Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Education Secretary, sneered at critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Common Core is distinct from test-driven instruction.
posted by Jpfed at 9:10 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


I scored ridiculously high on SATs, CLEPs, and GREs. Not because I are a genius, but I grokked standardized testing

I had a similar experience with the standardized testing that existed in the 90s/early 00s. There was just something about them that I got that made it really hard for me to do badly on them. I had friends who were intelligent, thoughtful people who were bound for lives of success who just didn't get them. The questions didn't make sense to them, even though they would have done well on more holistic evaluations. At the time, I patted myself on the back for how good I was at these tests, but now I see that it's just a skill, like any other, that some kids have and some kids don't.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:13 AM on January 23


"A person has change in her pocket. She spends varying amounts at various places. In the end she has 1/45 left; how much money does she have. 1/45?"

Forget the weird fraction - aren't there infinite possible solutions to this problem? You could have one penny left and the answer is 45 cents, 2 pennies left and the answer is 90 cents, etc.
posted by UncleBoomee at 9:22 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


A person has change in her pocket. She spends varying amounts at various places. In the end she has 1/45 left; how much money does she have.

Assuming that there was actually a starting amount given, this doesn't seem like a bad question at all. It asks the student to understand that 1/45 of the original amount is the same as dividing the original amount by 45.

In another question we learn how long it takes kids to do something a certain number of times, and the question is how long does it take them to do it one time. The answer, which all the fifth graders I was with could figure out, was four minutes. The problem? Pearson wanted the answer in hours, and since it was not multiple choice, it was anyone’s guess what answer they were looking for. I hoped that the kids that wrote “1/15 hour” got it right.

I don't see what's wrong with this question either. Especially if all times were given in hours. But even if all times were given in minutes but they wanted the answer in hours, all that means is dividing your minutes-answer by 60 to get 1/15 or .067 hours. And 0.067 hours is a perfectly cromulent measure of time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:24 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I don't see what's wrong with this question either. Especially if all times were given in hours. But even if all times were given in minutes but they wanted the answer in hours, all that means is dividing your minutes-answer by 60 to get 1/15 or .067 hours. And 0.067 hours is a perfectly cromulent measure of time.

You can't judge a question on a test separately from the instruction given leading up to the test. If students are regularly required to work out answers to questions in fractions-of-hours then the question is fine. If they're not then you could argue that it's a bit of a mean trick (though by no means an unanswerable question). Just pointing to a question and saying "this isn't the kind of question I remember having to work on when I was at that stage in school" is not particularly helpful when it comes to assessing the value of standardized testing. It reminds me of all the fuss in the 1960s about the "New Math."
posted by yoink at 9:39 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


No disagreement there. It's also possible that manipulation of units like that has been somewhere in the standards for years, or that the question otherwise taps into some learning skill that students have always been supposed to have at that point, but that students haven't (usually) been specifically taught it because it didn't appear on the regents' exams or similar.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 AM on January 23


It sucks that some of the test questions are bad, but I don't feel like standardized testing should be all that hard. I've looked at the questions in the Common Core, and the ones linked in the wync article upthread, and most of them are pretty reasonable.

I mean, I feel like the question "What things should a kid graduating 4th grade know?" is a pretty answerable question, and I feel like it makes sense for it to be fairly consistent across the country. One set of kids that would really be helped by the Common Core are those from military families or others whose parents move around a lot, for example.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:52 AM on January 23


I think you guys are missing the overall point, which is that these tests are destructive to the kids themselves who are taking them. There is no reason for children to be subjected to weeks and weeks and weeks of insane pressure when they are 7 years old, or 11 years old.

Curriculum is being set by a specific company, who makes a metric fuckton of money on selling the tests. Nobody is allowed to see the test, there is no objecting to the test, no metrics on scoring the test are given to parents or children, and bombing the test means being left back a grade, or being removed from gifted and talented, or being sent to special ed.

This is a massive, massive, massive give-away to Pearson, and I have yet to see any data that suggests this sort of testing is benefiting students.
posted by dejah420 at 9:58 AM on January 23 [23 favorites]


A person has change in her pocket. She spends varying amounts at various places. In the end she has 1/45 left; how much money does she have.

Wouldn't the answer be a logical range? Like, the lowest amount of money that the person could have is 1 cent, because 1/45th of something has to be non-zero and is not negative. So you would end up having to create a bounded equation where the lowest possible starting point would be 45 cents, but the upper limit would have to correspond to 1/45th of the known total amount of money in the world (which is technically unknown, given currency conversion and other mitigating factors like bartering or wealth creation through compound interest), and since the original information does not have a set time vector, we would have to offer a modality on that upper limit that is linked to the known history of using currency, since in pre-historic written record of civilization, we don't have an accurate accounting of the total amount of currency available, and also have a projection of the total amount of money that may possibly exist in the future, and you'd have to use estimates for the heat death of the sun as one of your possible upper time limits, though that is discounting the possibility of humans evolving or advancing enough to become a space faring species and escaping the gravity well of our current solar system.

Do they really teach kids how to write these types of equations?

/hill of beans, thoroughly over-thought
posted by daq at 10:00 AM on January 23


Check out these NY Public Schools Pre-K benchmarks. (pdf link) Plenty of these things are non-objectionable and related to reasonable child-development targets. But some of these things seem to have as much to do with social class and habitus as they do with academics. This, in particular, jumped out at me:
7. Develops a basic understanding of economic concepts within a community.
a) Demonstrates an understanding that money is needed to exchange for some goods and services.
b) Demonstrates understanding that money comes in different forms, i.e., coins and paper money.
c) Recognizes the roles/contributions of community workers as they produce goods/services that people need.
d) Recognizes that goods and services may be purchased using different forms of payment, (e.g., coins, paper money, checks, electronic payment, credit cards).
posted by R. Schlock at 10:03 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


The amount of classroom time being spent on testing and test-prep is insane. In the underpriviledged district where I work, standardized testing for placement lasts a week. "Unit" assessment testing lasts 2-3 days and occurs both before and after the unit is taught, so in a class like Algebra where there are five units a full week out of every month is taken up with testing, and then maybe you spend another week preparing for the test and going over it afterwards, so you spend half your class time on testing and test prep. That's crazy. You can't teach math that way, wilynilly.

I find the education secretary's comments disturbing too. The best way to encourage children to try harder is *not* to make sure they know how inadequate they are. Some will rise to the challenge but most will give up.
posted by subdee at 10:08 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I think you guys are missing the overall point, which is that these tests are destructive to the kids themselves who are taking them. There is no reason for children to be subjected to weeks and weeks and weeks of insane pressure when they are 7 years old, or 11 years old.

That's an argument for no high-stakes testing at all, not an argument about the questions on the test being absurd.

Curriculum is being set by a specific company

It looks a lot more like it's being set some combination of the 501c3 "running" it and input from the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:10 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I don't see what's wrong with this question either. Especially if all times were given in hours. But even if all times were given in minutes but they wanted the answer in hours, all that means is dividing your minutes-answer by 60 to get 1/15 or .067 hours. And 0.067 hours is a perfectly cromulent measure of time.

Here's what's wrong with it to me: The question didn't specify what units to provide the answer in, so any kids who correctly provide the answer in minutes are providing a correct answer but being marked wrong for it. Values expressed in convertible units are equivalent; grading kids off for answering in the wrong units without making that an explicit part of the question penalizes them for not understanding the test, rather than for not understanding the material being tested.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:11 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


The question didn't specify what units to provide the answer in

Did you manage to find a copy of the actual question somewhere? Because the (clearly incomplete) narrative version linked above suggests that the test did specify that they wanted the answer in hours. At least, it says that "Pearson wanted the answer in hours" and I don't know how they'd know that if it wasn't specified somewhere in the test.
posted by yoink at 10:38 AM on January 23


Regardless of whether or not the tests are good (they're not), the fact that a private company is paid to do this is a HUGE FAIL. It's wrong on so many levels, I don't even know where to start. A centralized and impersonal actor can only do one thing: compile metrics that can be quantified. That's only half the battle, AT BEST. Proper, effective education can only be done at the local level.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:40 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I've made sure my EU country passport is in order and I'm working on residency permits for my wife and kid before she hits school age. Forget this nonsense.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:13 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


yoink: "Did you manage to find a copy of the actual question somewhere? "

Here's the examples the NY state edu dept made available. (NY being the state in the FPP.) Here's examples of STAAR tests, which are used in Texas. Your state probably has their own version, should you not be in NY or TX.
posted by dejah420 at 11:15 AM on January 23


Known metrics, yes, that's certainly the way this should be handled. But it's just stupid to base a child's accomplishments on one test of one year. Why not break this down into quarters, make it low key, and rather than a major pass/fail, look at what needs to be done to bring the child up to grade level? The problem isn't in assessment, it's how the assessment is handled as some sort of punitive action if things don't quite match up. Every kid has different strengths, and some years they develop slowly, some years they leap ahead. The way we handle education in the US sucks.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:18 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Just pointing to a question and saying "this isn't the kind of question I remember having to work on when I was at that stage in school" is not particularly helpful when it comes to assessing the value of standardized testing. It reminds me of all the fuss in the 1960s about the "New Math."

But I thought the outcome of the New Math thing was that New Math was stupid and didn't work, so we went back to the old familiar way of doing things. I agree that newness shouldn't automatically disqualify a teaching or testing method, but the burden of proof's on the new stuff.
posted by echo target at 12:18 PM on January 23


The testing is probably what's going to lead to us leaving the public school system and homeschooling, despite the fact that I do not think I am at all qualified to teach a kid this bright, but I don' t know what else to do.

Intelligent children who haven't lost their innate curiosity do just fine homeschooling. If you start to look, you'll find a wealth of methods and resources. Your child will learn everything they'll ever need to be successful the same way we all do when we're curious and motivated -- in school our out, but it may be much easier (and quicker) to do so out out of school.
posted by sudama at 12:39 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Did you manage to find a copy of the actual question somewhere?

No--good point. I was assuming there was no additional instruction beyond what had been quoted. If there wasn't, the point stands and it's a bad question. Otherwise, it might be a fine question.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:45 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


In November, my son's third-grade math teacher wrote an eloquent heart-felt post on his class blog after getting the results of their benchmark testing. He had hand-graded their tests and discovered that several kids (including my son) had made errors filling in the bubbles on their Scantron cards that lowered their scores - three of them to below the "commended" level and two of them below passing. This is a G/T magnet school that typically works at least one grade level ahead, and scored significantly higher on the benchmarks than any other school in the district.

There were also problems with the test itself. This question (he changed the names and numbers, but the basics are the same) was only answered correctly by 43% of the kids in our school and 23% of kids in the district:

There are 5 children in the Morrison family. Each child gets 2 candy bars a
week. How many candy bars do the children get in 4 weeks?

A. 8 candy bars
B. 10 candy bars
C. 11 candy bars
D. 40 candy bars

There is no way that the kids in this class had trouble with the actual math, but the wording is not at all clear whether it is asking for how many candy bars each of the children received or how many all of the children received. The questions often include extra information - so they had no way of knowing if the number of children was important or not.

I won't share his post here, since it was on a private blog, but the gist of it that the tests only show a fraction of what the kids actually know. If these G/T students struggle so much with simple mistakes and confusing wording, how on earth are average students, who might be reluctant readers or learning English as a second language or younger due to summer birthdays or facing a slew of other issues, going get the scores that are expected of them? And how is he, as a teacher, supposed to get them there, when there's so much more than mathematics involved?

He's trying several strategies to help the kids work on their problem-solving skills and strategies and attention to detail, but we're talking about eight-year-olds here. Even the brightest and most careful eight-year-old is going to make occasional mistakes and have trouble with questions that aren't completely clear. Even the brightest and most careful eight-year old could have a headache or upset tummy or be distracted by something else happening in his life on a test day and end up with a lousy score. On the other hand, a kid might have a lucky day of guessing right and score much higher than they should. High-stakes testing for little kids is insane. I don't blame anyone opting out of testing one whit.
posted by Dojie at 12:57 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


A colleague told me the following story about a standardized test here: one of the questions was something along the lines of

"It is 23°F. Is it warm or cold outside?"

Apparently students here got this question wrong at something like four times more often than the national average.

The problem? The exam was given in February, in Fairbanks Alaska. You betcha that in the middle of February---where temperatures can be around -40F, and where the average high is 11F---that 23F is warm.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:27 PM on January 23 [14 favorites]


Many of these problems with the tests themselves are derived from the fact that they are multiple choice in order to be graded by machine. Making students explain their answers in verse would allow humans to judge whether the student truly "groks" the material.
posted by butterstick at 6:22 PM on January 23


Many of these problems with the tests themselves are derived from the fact that they are multiple choice

In the anecdote about the "hours" and "1/45th" questions, we're told emphatically that the questions are not multiple choice.
posted by yoink at 9:23 AM on January 24


Actually most of my students prefer multiple choice because it at least tells them when they are way off in their solution, and sometimes you can reason from the choices what the question is about.

Not to mention, being able to explain your reasoning is a completely different (and much more difficult) task than being able to solve a problem.

I understand why you'd *want* students to be able to explain what they're doing, but it really is an extra level of difficulty for them.
posted by subdee at 4:26 PM on January 26


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