Monday, May 31, 2010

Three Questions to Test The Test

CA Standard – Grade 1 – Writing 1.1.7
Capitalize the first word of a sentence, names of people, and the pronoun I.

A proper English sentence begins with what form of letter?

A – lowercase
B – consonant
C – capital
D – vowel


Which sentence is correct?

A – my father works very Hard.
B – My Father Works Very Hard.
C – My father works very hard.
D – my father works very hard.


Read to students: Please write one sentence about the friends you play with at recess and what you do.

It’s test time here and the perennial debate ensues. Can we link teacher evaluation to student data? These three questions, and their analysis, are my answer. I’m not at all afraid of being evaluated (in part) through my students’ test results, or even compensated (in part) on the basis of scores, provided we have clearly understood objectives and tests that reliably assess them. Too often, we have neither. Case in point…

The first question represents a failure of validity, it does not assess what it is supposed to assess. First, the item is confusing the use of a skill with its explicit understanding. An adult analogy might be the difference between eating properly and understanding our metabolic and digestive processes. While perhaps this knowledge is valuable, it is not required. Conversely, knowing that sentences begin with a capital letter is not the same as actually doing it. Plenty of people know how the body works, but still don’t eat well.

Further, the first item is predicated on a confidence that the teacher will have taught the term “capital,” rather than “uppercase” or “big” or “majuscule.” Again, perhaps reasonable, but it does not make for a valid test of the given standard. This question would be ideal for a standard, “Students will identify that a proper sentence begins with a capital letter.” But that’s not the standard.

The second question is an improvement. It is focused on the skill of capitalization. It is not reliant on explicit understanding or a single piece of terminology. However, it still does not accurately assess the standard. Recognizing proper writing and generating it are two entirely different skills. We can hear when a violinist misses a note even if we can’t play the violin. Certainly, one skill is preliminary to the other, but the concern remains, are we testing what we say we are going to test? Further, it only tests one piece of the standard. We would need another question for testing the pronoun “I” and another for names. How long of an exam can we have for a first grader, before it becomes a test of stamina rather than language? This leads to questions of reliability, that students will get the same questions right and wrong if they took the test again, in a different order or on another day.

The third question finally assesses the given standard. Students will almost necessarily use all of names, the pronoun I, and an initial capital letter to answer the question. However, this fidelity to the objective unlocks a Pandora’s Box of other possibilities. What if the student has no friends? What if recess has been eliminated for test prep, or has been renamed “PE” or “Outdoor Time?” What if the student writes: Play BKTball I M and R. Are we to assume that “M” and “R” are names? What if they are nicknames? What if they are celebrity children, who only have letters for names? Does the capitalization of “BKTball” indicate that the student doesn’t understand the objective or that there is a really popular new game right now made up by Belen, Karl and Tomo? The examiners should disregard word order, as this is a question of capitalization, but will they? Further, will any teacher or test company really be willing to stand up to the press and public and say that the student really should have gotten that question right?

So, dear public, press and reformers: On which of these questions, answered by a child taking a big test for the first time and graded anonymously by a company with a large interest in your failure, would you stake your professional reputation and financial success?

1 comment:

柏勳 said...

All roads lead to Rome. 堅持自己所選!..................................................